Your Complete Guide To Giving & Receiving Feedback

Communication is an essential component of connection and trust between people – family, friends, coworkers, or even total strangers. Offering a compliment, being vulnerable about your feelings, and discovering surprising similarities mid-conversation are all great ways to strengthen bonds and feel closer with those in your life. But we often shy away from giving and receiving honest feedback out of fear that it might hurt the other person — or our own pride.

The reality is that the act of offering feedback indicates you care enough about another person to be honest. It shows you’re willing to spend your time supporting their growth and personal development. What’s more, trying to ignore behavior that bothers you can breed resentment when left unresolved. Taking the emotional risk to provide constructive feedback shows the other person that you are invested in the relationship and willing to take time to help fix the issue.

two women sit side by side each holding a landline telephone and looking away while smiling

Of course, no one wants to be on the receiving end of harsh, nitpicking criticism. Bad feedback can make you feel attacked, invalidated, and unwilling to share in the future. If it’s not phrased thoughtfully, negative feedback can actually hurt relationships down the road. Similarly, if you are afraid of any and all feedback because of a few bad experiences, you might start to associate such comments as a personal insult and have difficulty separating yourself from your work or even your subconscious habits. It’s important to work on giving and receiving feedback so we can be our best selves and show up fully in relationships – but where to start?

Giving Compassionate & Honest Feedback

1. Know your purpose and be specific.

No one likes to be confused as to why they’re on the receiving end of feedback. Make sure you state your reason clearly. Are you addressing a specific issue that has come up? Can you see an opportunity for the other person to grow and leverage their strengths?

2. Focus on the behavior, not the person.

We’re all human and we are all capable of making mistakes. Effective feedback addresses behaviors rather than someone’s character, so it helps to use “I” statements such as “I feel…” rather than “you” statements. This is between you and the other person, so it’s important to present your feedback as your opinion of how their behavior is affecting you.

3. Be direct, descriptive, and open.

Feedback can be vulnerable for both parties and that’s okay! Rather than beating around the bush, it’s essential to be direct and describe your viewpoints rather than pass judgment. Be open to listening and asking questions – in order to normalize feedback in your daily life, it helps to remember this is just like any other conversation.

4. Timing is essential.

It’s not helpful to address something that happened six months ago if you want that person to change their behavior. If you have feedback to give, it should be timely and relevant (while still being fully thought out). It’s also essential to pick your moment. Work on your emotional awareness to understand when the other person might be more receptive to feedback rather than delivering it during the heat of the moment. Note your own emotional state too – anxiety is normal, but it won’t help your case.

slow north guide to giving and receiving feedback woman sits on couch listening the person across from her in a thoughtful way

Receiving Feedback Graciously

1. Be receptive rather than defensive.

Take time to listen to what the other person is saying and notice your own reactions before you jump on the defense. Remember, feedback is just another data point. Having data is better than not because it expands perspectives, resulting in healthier relationships and communication.

2. Become curious.

To avoid misunderstandings, asking a range of questions helps ensure that you fully understand what the other person is saying. You can also reflect on the feelings this conversation is bringing up – what can you learn from this experience?

3. Take your time to process.

You might need some time to reflect on received feedback so you can make the necessary changes. It’s also okay to take a break and revisit the conversation at a later time.

two women sit in chairs next to each other facing forward with their faces covered by a book

4. Focus on gratitude.

Thank the person who offered you feedback to show them that you’ve not only listened and understood, but you’ve also accepted what they’ve said. Own up to your mistakes and move forward by making changes — receiving feedback can be difficult, but appreciate this as an opportunity to grow as a person rather than focusing on the criticism alone.

With practice, giving and receiving feedback can help you flex often vulnerable muscles of communication. If you make a conscious effort to ask for feedback often from those you trust, it eliminates the surprise when you receive it and can help you become more open to advice. Similarly, developing the skill of giving good feedback can help build up your confidence while demonstrating your investment in another person’s success. Ultimately, giving honest, compassionate feedback becomes a cornerstone of solid relationships if we all work to develop the skills to support each other’s growth.

Cecilia Seiter
Cecilia is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes largely about sustainability, especially as it applies to beauty, wellness, and the future of technology. She is a graduate of the journalism department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is based in Oakland , CA.