Feedback Strategies: The 3 Foundations of Effective Communication

In the world of leadership development, few skills are as important yet as challenging to master as the art of giving feedback. My journey has been deeply influenced by several ground-breaking works: The Center for Creative Leadership’s ‘Feedback That Works,’ Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor,’ and the transformative communication strategies outlined in Roger Schwarz ‘The Skilled Facilitator.’ This, in combination with my practical experience in supporting leaders around the world, has reinforced my belief in 3 make-it-or-break-it strategies when delivering feedback.

1. Anchor Your Feedback in Objectivity

The cornerstone of constructive feedback is its foundation on objective observations rather than subjective interpretations or judgments. Consider the distinction between noting someone’s showing up late to a meeting (objective data) vs. commenting on their lack of respect for others’ time (a subjective judgment).

The latter, even if you believe it to be true, often serves only to polarize and escalate the conflict. Focusing on objective facts helps to set a neutral ground for the conversation to build upon, facilitating a more open and less defensive dialogue.

2. Leave Your Baggage Behind

A common pitfall in giving feedback is letting grievances pile up without addressing them, leading to a situation where numerous unresolved issues are brought up all at once, often supported by a backlog of examples. This approach, although seemingly building a stronger case for the feedback, inevitably leads to the recipient’s heightened defensiveness.

If past incidents weren’t addressed in a timely manner, they’ve lost their moment. Introducing them retrospectively only clouds the issue at hand, shifting the focus from constructive dialogue to justification and defense.

3. Be Truthful AND Tactful

The ability to truthfully express your thoughts and feelings while maintaining tactfulness and diplomacy is the two-step of effective communication. While honesty is non-negotiable, the manner of its delivery is equally critical. Blunt truth without empathy can alienate and shut down the conversation, fostering feelings of shame and defensiveness.

Conversely, excessive tact at the expense of directness risks obscuring the message, undermining trust, and ultimately, the relationship itself. Achieving healthy tension between truth and tact ensures the message is not only delivered but received in the spirit it was intended.

There’s no secret formula that ensures the success of every feedback session. Yet, by framing your conversation on these three foundations, the likelihood of fostering a constructive and meaningful exchange increases dramatically. Becoming an effective feedback giver (and receiver) elevates trust and draws out the best in those around us. While perfection in feedback is unattainable, striving to get better brings us closer to becoming more credible, respected, and ultimately, impactful leaders and teammates.

DIY Team Icebreaker

10 Questions

Leading team meetings and having one-on-one’s can sometimes feel rigid and formal. As leaders, we often default to asking generic questions like “How’s everyone doing?” and receive equally generic responses. But to truly engage our team members and foster a sense of connection, we need to ask more engaging questions—ones that spark creativity and build rapport.

For example, instead of the usual routine, you might kick off your meeting by asking your team, “Can you share a recent success or accomplishment you’re proud of, either personally or professionally?” or “What’s one thing you’re looking forward to accomplishing this week?” These types of questions not only lighten the atmosphere but also encourage participation and collaboration.

Let’s break away from the typical meeting routine and infuse some energy and excitement into our discussions. Here are some thought-provoking questions to kickstart your next team gathering or one-on-one, and create a more vibrant and connected workplace:

  1. What’s one thing you’ve learned recently that has positively impacted your work?
  2. What’s a skill or hobby you have outside of work that you think might surprise your colleagues?
  3. If you could switch roles with anyone on the team for a day, whose job would you choose and why?
  4. What’s a project or task you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?
  5. If you could have any superpower for a day, what would it be and why?
  6. What’s one goal you have for yourself in the upcoming month, either at work or in your personal life?
  7. How do you like to unwind or relax after a busy day at work?
  8. What’s one thing you appreciate about working with your colleagues on this team?
  9. Can you share a book, podcast, or article that has inspired you lately?
  10. If you could describe your ideal work environment in three words, what would they be?

Monthly Inspiration

The clearest sign of intellectual chemistry isn't agreeing with someone. It's enjoying your disagreements with them. Harmony is the pleasing arrangement of different tones, voices, or instruments, not the combination of identical sounds. Creative tension makes beautiful music.

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Adam Grant

Author & Professor

At Leaders For Leaders, we’re passionate about helping you unlock the full potential of your team and leaders. Whether you’re facing specific challenges or seeking opportunities for growth, our customized keynotes and workshops are designed to make your next meeting, conference, or event truly unforgettable. 
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Tim Arnold

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