Giving Feedback Doesn’t Have to Suck

giving feedback

Back when I was getting my coaching certification, I had an extraordinary (and delicious?) experience practicing methods of giving feedback. And it stuck with me. 

Instead of creating thoughts of “you’re not good enough,” we did something different, something magical. We created a space that felt like a leadership taste test. We reviewed the 360 feedback as though we were tasting different desserts. 

As we went through each bite of feedback, we “tasted” each piece by digesting the words and deciding what it meant to our growth goals and our vision for an inspiring future…and that felt like freedom. Ideas for growth lived where there would normally be feelings of guilt and shame…

This concept sparked an idea that Trevor and I have used in our coaching ever since.

Performance feedback can be one of the most anxiety-inducing things we do at work — for the recipient and the giver of that feedback. And yet, we tend to do it the same way we always have because we see it as necessary or because we have to check the box.

When you give feedback, you feel guilty because, no matter what you say, you think the person on the receiving end is hearing “let me tell you what’s wrong with you.” The thing is, you’re most likely right. Feedback is an evaluation of someone’s performance, their behavior, their work. If you don’t think that person is steeled for negative comments, you’re wrong. 

And when you’re on the receiving end of the feedback conversation, you may try to act calm on the surface, but you’re nervous. Your brain naturally wants to defend against the feedback (fight mode), avoid hearing it altogether (flight mode), or are paralyzed entirely (freeze mode). These amygdala responses don’t allow us (or the person on the other end) to be open, to fully listen, and to see our own potential for growth.

Why does giving feedback make you feel so guilty?

Throughout our two decades of leadership coaching, we have helped clients turn feedback conversations into learning conversations. 

Feedback conversations often aren’t usually conversations at all — they’re more feeders of information. Inherently, they’re not participatory, which can compound the stress and guilt. And, looking to the past (sometimes as far back as 6 months or a year) to highlight mistakes or wrong-doings can stir up feelings of guilt, fear, doubt, and worry.

The whole implication is that you have to find what is wrong with you before you can get better. 

There are, of course, benefits to looking at the past with the intention of creating a more positive present and future.

But both the feedback giver and receiver can get trapped too much in the past. We then create an unhealthy, fear-inducing dynamic that our brains are hard-wired to resist because the receiver perceives themselves as victims and the feedback giver is perceived as a villain.

This is the way we’ve been trained to give and receive feedback throughout our careers, and it sucks. 

But, hey, here’s a better way:

Have a Learning Conversation Instead

Turn your feedback sessions into learning conversations. 

A learning conversation does not assume that anything is wrong with the other person. What it does imply is that there are gifts and skills they can learn to make their life more easeful, productive, and satisfying. In a learning conversation, you help people:

  1. take full, healthy responsibility for their life (and work),
  2. make commitments and goals tied to their future, and
  3. practice these commitments and goals

In a learning conversation you:

In learning conversations, it’s all about creating an environment that reduces fear and invites growth. As you approach your conversation, think about the following questions:

What is your energy like?
What words/actions will you choose in order to remove fear and blame from the environment and the conversation?

Your role as the feedback giver is not to tell someone what is wrong with them. Your role is actually to help them take responsibility for their work, to help them set goals for their future, and to enable them to reach their commitments and goals. 

To make your conversation as productive as possible, remember to withhold judgment (there is nothing wrong with the other person), and acknowledge that there are skills that you, as a leader, can learn to feel more comfortable, productive, and satisfied.

Love this? Print this worksheet to begin hosting learning conversations that make life more wonderful.

Featured Resource:


5 Days to Mindful Leadership


Conscious Equity Info Session