The Secret Sauce for Giving Feedback Like a Pro: Part 1 

Your Secret Sauce

Written by Stacey Chazin

July 25, 2023

Raise your hand if you like giving people feedback. In the workplace. When they’re falling short on the expectations of their role. And…wait for it…when they haven’t been receptive to feedback in the past.

While I can’t see your faces, I’m confident that most of you have your arms glued to your sides (or planted firmly on your desk). I’m right there with you.

I am not good at giving feedback. I am better than I used to be, but that was awful (like show-up-on-my-own-performance-review awful). I cringe thinking about the ineffectiveness of my “constructive criticism” and the harm I likely did to the workplace happiness and self-esteem of team members who were at the receiving end of this. (If any one of you is reading this, I’m sorry! I didn’t know!)

Fast forward a bunch of years, some truly fortunate experiences learning from colleagues who are inexplicable virtuosos at giving feedback, and one Master’s in Organizational Development & Leadership later, and I’ve gotten better at cracking this nut. A colleague actually told me recently that I am really good at providing feedback, and I almost fell over at my Zoom desk. But it really happened.

You may be thinking – great, Stacey’s is now going to tell us how to get better at this feedback thing through what phrases to use, what body language to mime, what procedures to follow, etc. Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t read that here. You can find a gazillion articles on the internet that can tell you this. My takeaways on how to be a better provider of feedback, and what I am going to share, center on one key tenet: knowing yourself and the person who will have the benefit of receiving your feedback. Hear me out.

Getting to the crux of my feedback challenges

When I struggled in the past to provide feedback to members of my team, a whole host of fears, hopes, insecurities, and unfair biases swirled throughout my brain. I felt uncomfortable addressing sensitive issues or critiquing other people’s work; I worried I would hurt their feelings, that our relationship would be damaged, and that I would be perceived negatively. I felt beholden to follow the sometimes-misguided advice I received from others on how to provide feedback.

And I knew that I had (and have) very high standards for my own work and others’. I struggled with: (1) whether I was justified in holding them to those standards, and (2) how to do that in ways that didn’t demoralize them. As you’ve likely inferred, all of this led me to fail miserably in the feedback space.

As I reflected on the above, what emerged for me – and that I offer for your consideration – is that no one approach works for everyone. Not for the provider of feedback, nor for the recipient. Yes, there are some core tenets to follow (e.g., be specific, give examples, never shame). But the way in which you approach delivering feedback – the what, the how, and even the when – should be driven by: (1) your strengths and challenges as a leader, and (2) the communication preferences, motivations, and mindsets of the individual who is receiving your feedback. In this blog post – the first of two in this series – I focus on #1.

Let’s take a look at a few ways this can play out. As I typically do in this space, I will share how these dynamics have shown up for me and then explore how they might do so for others with different leadership tendencies and personality profiles.

First, I’ve come to realize that perfectionism has been one of the biggest culprits for me in delivering feedback – rearing its ugly head in a few ways. The relentless pursuit of flawlessness in how we give feedback can lead to hesitation or avoidance when faced with the need or opportunity to provide it.

Recognizing my perfectionism, I also sometimes wonder if my “constructive” feedback is fair. I worry, are my standards too high? Am I thinking that a job hasn’t been done well because I would have done it differently? This worry aligns with my profile as an Enneagram Type Six. Type Sizes tend to have an active inner critic and are often plagued by self-doubt. They may hesitate to provide feedback because they question their own judgment and worry about causing harm.

Both my fear of not being perfect in my delivery of feedback, and my worry that my critiques are unfair, have sometimes led me to avoid feedback conversation entirely. Or to be so caught up in these worries that my delivery is a disaster.

As a Type Six, my ability to give effective feedback has also been stymied by my tendency to overthink and face “analysis paralysis.” Type Sixes often overanalyze situations and spend a lot of time anticipating problems. Combined with the above-described perfectionism, this has also led me to hesitate around or bungle feedback.

Another impediment for me is rooted in my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profile of INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). INTJs are known for their direct and straightforward communication style. While this can be valuable in many situations, it can make giving feedback challenging (especially for the recipient). INTJs often struggle to provide feedback tactfully, which can inadvertently come across as harsh or overly critical. I have experienced this challenge and seen its impact many, many times.

As a final example about my own struggles in this space, INTJs tend to prioritize logical problem-solving over emotional support (hope you’re not disliking me too much at this point!). When giving feedback, we focus more on identifying and addressing issues rather than providing helpful, empathetic guidance. This can be especially problematic for feedback recipients who need a warmer approach to stay motivated and make positive changes.

Recognizing your own feedback challenges

But enough about me. What other types of leaders might struggle with effectively providing feedback? I am going to draw from the Enneagram and MBTI in this discussion; even if you don’t know your profile in these frameworks, you may recognize some of these characteristics in yourself. Here are some examples:

  • Peacemakers: The label given to Enneagram Type Nines, peacemakers value harmony and well, peace, often trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. Giving feedback can be challenging for them because it threatens to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere they try to maintain.
  • Introverts: Identified in MBTI and also making appearances in Enneagram Type Fives, those with introverted tendencies tend to be more reserved and introspective. They may find it challenging to provide feedback, as it requires them to engage in social interactions and assert themselves.
  • Helpers: These Enneagram Type Twos are driven by the desire to be helpful and supportive of others. Giving feedback can be difficult for them as they may worry about hurting someone’s feelings or being perceived as critical. They often prioritize maintaining positive relationships, which can hinder their ability to provide honest, constructive feedback.
  • Rule-followers: Those with an MBTI profile of ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) are known for their attention to detail and adherence to rules and procedures. Giving feedback can be challenging due to their preference for factual and objective communication. They may struggle with providing feedback that addresses interpersonal dynamics or emotions, focusing more on tasks.
  • Casual communicators: Some individuals, including Enneagram Type Sevens,  prefer giving casual, encouraging feedback to others. They often shy away from rigid structures for evaluating performance, even though such frameworks are typically needed (at least during formal review time) and can be helpful in connecting discussions to specific performance expectations and measures.
  • Those with shorter attention spans: MBTI-type ESFPs (Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving) and Enneagram Type Sevens often have relatively short attention spans. This can make it tough for them to engage in prolonged and in-depth feedback discussions.

The above are just a handful of ways in which our preferences and mindsets as leaders can get in the way of delivering effective feedback, and I encourage you to read more in the list of resources below to see what resonates with you.

Using your self-awareness to improve your feedback delivery

How can knowing the above improve how we provide feedback to others? As with most things, knowledge is power. Once you you are self-aware of what’s showing up for you in this space, you can undertake strategies that address your challenges and leverage your strengths.

Drawing from the personality types and mindsets above, here are some examples:

  • You are a perfectionist and struggle with “analysis paralysis”: Before giving feedback, ensure you have a clear understanding of the specific behaviors or areas you want to address. Being well-prepared will boost your confidence and credibility during the feedback discussion. Also allow the recipient of your feedback the chance to take ownership of identifying ways to improve, rather than believing that you are responsible for coming up with all the solutions.
  • You are a natural helper: Enneagram Type Twos excel at understanding others’ emotions and needs. When giving feedback, take the time to empathize with the individual’s feelings and perspectives. Frame the feedback in a way that shows you genuinely care about their growth and well-being. At the same time, ​​avoid sugar coating or beating around the bush, as this might dilute your message and hinder the individual’s understanding of the feedback. Try not to get distracted worrying about how the feedback might reflect on you.
  • You are a peacemaker: To ensure a receptive atmosphere, pick an appropriate time and private setting for the feedback discussion. This will help create a safe space for open communication without unnecessary distractions. Leverage your natural empathy during the feedback conversation, acknowledging the other person’s feelings and challenges, and highlighting how the suggested improvements align with their aspirations and objectives. This approach fosters a sense of collaboration and mutual growth.
  • You are an introvert: Introverts often process information internally before expressing their thoughts. Before giving feedback, take some time to reflect on the situation and organize your thoughts to deliver clear and well-considered feedback. Introverts are also often excellent listeners. Use this strength during the feedback conversation to hear the other person’s perspective and understand their feelings. Active listening fosters trust and helps create a collaborative environment for feedback.
  • You are a rule-follower (me too!): As you give feedback, acknowledge that growth and change are natural parts of any journey. Embrace the possibility that the individual may respond positively to feedback and be open to adjusting your own approach based on their needs. Allow the conversation to evolve organically rather than holding on tight to the flow you had planned to follow.
  • You prefer casual, non-structured communication: Make your feedback as specific as possible and stay on-topic. Create and share a clear agenda to guide your conversation, preventing you from veering off course and helping your recipient to see the path forward. Put your feedback in writing – even in bulleted format – to make sure that both of you are clear on the core substance of your feedback; this also communicates that you have given the feedback serious consideration and are not giving “off the cuff” thoughts.
  • You have a relatively short attention span: Engage in mindfulness practices such as guided meditation in order to help you stay present during conversations and resist the temptation of distractions. Work actively to stay focused on your key messages about the person’s performance, rather than getting sidetracked.

The recipe for your unique secret sauce

Of course, the above is just a sample of the ways our individual leadership styles, preferences, and personalities can show up in the feedback space. And while many of us have identified these mindsets through formal assessments, chances are, you can recognize your own tendencies and preferences through the self-awareness you’ve gained over time.

The next time you go through the process of delivering feedback, pay attention to how you’re showing up. The assumptions you’re making. The format, the language, the time and space to which you find yourself defaulting. And consider that impact that these behaviors and choices have on the effectiveness of your feedback, and on the person receiving it. I’d love to hear what shows up for you.

Next time, we’ll explore how the preferences, styles, and motives of the individuals to whom you provide feedback should also inform how you tailor your feedback for each one of them. That is to say, once you figure out your own recipe for success in this space, you may need to alter some ingredients, add some time for marinating, or turn the flame up (or down) for different members of your team before “serving up” your feedback. Stay tuned for more.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to receive future resources to help build your organization’s capacity to effect social change, or you would like to explore how we can work together on leadership development, meeting design & facilitation, collaborative learning, or strategic communications, email us.  Please also follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, where we promise not to overwhelm you with meaningless chatter.

Some of the content above was adapted from the following resources, which I encourage you to explore for further insights:

You May Also Like…

Navigating the Assertiveness Trap

Navigating the Assertiveness Trap

Like many women and girls, I often felt the need at both school and work to speak more often and more assertively to...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *