Feedback allows us to see ourselves as others do


We all receive some sort of feedback in our lives, on or off the job, everyday. How we receive it, however, is an extremely important adaptive skill; our success at this skill seems to be linked to our past experiences. If such an experience was painful or humiliating for us in the past, we are likely to resent receiving feedback. In contrast, if we felt a certain amount of acceptance along with criticism in the past, we will tend to be less anxious and defensive about the process. It’s through feedback that we can “see ourselves as others see us.”

Feedback is the lifeblood of performance in the workplace. According to research, providing feedback is an effective way to motivate employees to learn in training and increase the effectiveness of goal setting. With some tasks feedback occurs naturally. For example, in baseball, a batter receives feedback on his swing by seeing how hard and far the ball travels.

For other tasks, however, judging the correctness of a behavior without feedback is difficult. For example, you complete a project for your boss and he grunts at you or worse yet, never comments on the quality of the project, leaving you to wonder if you are meeting the company’s expectations. Feedback is so important that it can have a profound positive effect on job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

A final consideration for feedback concerns what type to give. Research and common sense agree that positive feedback should be given when tasks are performed correctly. Praise provides an incentive to continue correct behavior. To be most effective, negative feedback should be delivered by focusing on the behavior and should be accompanied by specific suggestions for how the individual can improve performance.

Because of the importance of feedback in the workplace, the process is likely to have some psychological and emotional effects on the person receiving the feedback. A balance must be maintained between giving too little and too much feedback. An individual will not learn if too little feedback is given. However, too much or overly detailed feedback causes frustration, slowing down the learning process.

Feedback is constructive when it is given with the goal of encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior. For feedback to be effective, it must be given when individuals do things properly, not just when they make mistakes. Here are some tips for effective feedback.

• Identify the behavior and focus on it rather than the person’s personality. For example, if someone is often late for work, you might say, “In the past two weeks you have been late six times” rather than “We are tired of your lack of responsibility and commitment to your job.”

• Explain how the behavior is impacting others. For example, “When you arrive 10 minutes late, customers get angry because there is no one to help them. When other employees cover for you, it causes them to get behind on their work, resulting in them missing part of their lunch break or being forced to work overtime.”

• Ask the individual for suggestions on how the behavior can be changed.

• After arriving at a solution, together you should set a specific goal. For example, they could agree that the employee be on time everyday for the next week.

• After an agreed upon time, the two of you should meet to see if the goal has been met and to set new goals.

The basic question is what to do with the feedback we receive. Some people deflect it, deny it, explain it away, or in some other way try to protect themselves from the potential impact of the feedback they receive. One’s personal goal ought to be focused on developing the capacity to stay open to feedback, especially during those moments when you are feeling defensive about the feedback. The defensiveness is a clue that you are about to learn something very important about yourself.

A person who is highly practiced in this skill will frequently solicit feedback from supervisors and from work colleagues as a way to learn from mistakes and to make changes.


Michelle Simms is a personal development coach and the owner of Bellingham-based Simms International. She provides one-on-one and group coaching services to individuals around the world. You can find her at

Related Stories