Cross-Functional Learning


Our well-rounded business content is designed for Leaders & Managers to implement change with ease & improve accountability amongst their teams. Here you'll find Articles from thought leaders in their fields, have access to practical Business Templates, learn new skills & expand on skills you already have. Stay informed & proactive...Join Us Today!

Join Now

Building a Positive Workplace Through Feedback

By Claire Laughlin (1578 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on December 8, 2013

There are (0) comments permalink

Add to My Toolkit

If you are like millions of other Americans who work full-time, you probably spend more time at work than you spend anywhere else. You probably want your workplace to be a comfortable and positive place where you feel valued and appreciated, and where you can learn, grow and express yourself to others. 


Of course, many people don’t have workplaces like that. Unhealthy relationships, power dynamics and downright “bad” behavior poison the climate in some workplaces, making it difficult if not impossible to thrive. In these organizations, satisfaction is low, productivity suffers, and there is a pervasive lack of engagement that feels like a wet blanket keeping everyone’s enthusiasm at bay. 


There are many things you can do to combat a stale and unhealthy workplace culture, and today I am going to focus on one in particular- giving and receiving feedback. I will introduce two tips for improving feedback, and give examples of each in action. But first, let’s look at why feedback is so important for building a healthy organizational culture. 


Why is feedback so important to a healthy workplace culture? Isn’t the culture mostly a product of things like resources and industry norms? As a communication specialist, I’d have to say, ‘no.’ Obviously, the industry we are in and the resources we have make an impact. No doubt. But the way we interpret and talk about these things is far more important to our culture than the things themselves. 


If we have the tools and skills to engage in healthy and rich conversations so that we can address the things that arise during our workday (including disappointments, interpretations about people’s behaviors, and our general perceptions of everyday circumstances), then we have a much better shot at creating the healthy interpersonal dynamics that are the foundation of the culture in the first place. 


Ultimately, our culture is a result of our communication patterns- the way we interact with each other. Improving our abilities to interact gets right at the heart of improving our culture. Giving and receiving feedback is key to the communication process, because it allows us to “make meaning together.” When I give feedback, I am asking for someone else to consider my perspective and (potentially) make a change. When I ask for feedback, or receive (even unsolicited) feedback, I am creating the conditions for building greater understanding between me and another person. These interactions are at the very heart of our ability to influence others, negotiate the terms of our relationships, and make an impact on our environment. I’d like to give you two tips for improving the way you give and receive feedback. 


Two Tips For Improving The Way You Give & Receive Feedback



Tip #1:

When giving feedback, start with your good intentions and keep your “facts” neutral.


Receiving feedback is difficult. Hearing feedback that is too harsh can shut down the receiver and make your message meaningless. When giving feedback, soften the impact by first describing your good intentions, and then delivering the news in a way that is somewhat “neutral,” or at least non-triggering. 


Imagine that you want to give feedback to a team member who spoke words of frustration about a customer during a team meeting. Your hope is to help “John” make a different choice next time so that as a group you are all upholding a high degree of professionalism. 


If you were to deliver your feedback like this: “Hey, John, You shouldn’t be so mean when you talk about the customers. That’s in poor taste and it makes everyone doubt your professionalism,” then you are likely to trigger a negative response in John that results in a defensive reaction and two negative consequences. Not only is John unlikely to really hear your message, he may even develop a negative opinion about you in the process which further erodes trust. 


Instead, start with your good intentions and keep your “facts” neutral. A more balanced approach might sound more like this: “I’d like to talk with you about our team meeting the other day. I know that we are all focused on maintaining a high degree of professionalism, and that’s why I am bringing this up. When you expressed your opinion about our customer, I had a negative reaction. I understand how frustrating customers can be, but I also know that how we talk about the customers influences how we feel about them.”


From here, I would pause and wait to see what John has to say. I have started the conversation by stating my good intentions, and I have described my observation in a truthful but neutral manner. I may go on to make a request about a new behavior, but first I’ll want to hear how John perceives the situation. This pattern sets us up for a conversation that gets to the heart of the matter and (hopefully) maintains a level of trust between us as co-workers.   


Tip #2:

When receiving feedback, don’t be defensive! Lower your defensiveness by getting curious, asking open-ended questions, and admitting mistakes.  


Meanwhile, if I am John in the situation above, it may be hard for me to hear the feedback even if it is neutral and within the context of a good intention. I may already feel badly about my behavior, and I may want to deflect the feedback entirely. Or, I may feel completely justified in my comments and not even want to acknowledge that the way we talk in a team meeting has any bearing on our degree of professionalism. That is why we each need to cultivate our ability to receive feedback, even when it is unsolicited. Here’s how…


  • Think of every feedback situation as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, the other person, and life in general. Feedback is not a “fact.” Feedback is someone else’s perception of the world. If you can remember that life is a learning journey, then you will be much more open to feedback in its many forms, and you will eventually gain knowledge, experience and wisdom as a result.  

  • Ask a question. This simple practice helps us to pause and get curious. If you train yourself to respond with a question such as, “tell me more,” or, “can you explain in more detail,” then you buy yourself a moment to get your bearings and prepare to receive the feedback. This is a time to seek details, explore the other person’s perception, and reflect on the impact of your behavior. In the situation described above, if John responded with, “tell me more,” then I know that John is open to my perspective, and I feel invited to give a little more detail.  

  • Finally, apologize or admit mistakes. It’s amazing what happens when someone says, “I’m sorry.” Imagine if John’s next comment was, “Yeah, I was really wound up. I probably should have cooled off a little bit before talking about the problem.” This shows me that John is aware of the impact of his comment, and John and I now have a better understanding of each other. The bottom line is that trust is built between us as a result of our willingness to openly talk through this situation. 


A healthy organizational culture is built in moments of challenge. If we can be courageous enough to bring difficult conversations into the open in a respectful and truthful manner, and we seize those opportunities by being receptive to feedback that is sometimes difficult to hear, then we are building a strong foundation for a healthy culture.   


{#/pub/images/ClaireLaughlin.jpg}Written by Claire Laughlin, Consultant & Trainer, Leadership 4 Design- As an independent consultant and trainer with 20 years of diverse experience, Claire Laughlin brings a passion for improving relationships, experience in management, and a relentless dedication to transformation to all of her work. She is fully committed to working with individuals, teams, and organizations as they learn and cultivate the habits and practices that make their organizational dynamics healthy and highly productive. Claire's experience spans Leadership to Communication Essentials to Project Management & Customer Service and has designed and taught over one hundred courses at over 60 organizations and seven different colleges and universities. In addition to her consultancy work, Claire directs Cabrillo College's Corporate Training Program.


Do you have a question for Claire?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


Did you find this article informative?  Let us keep you up-to-date on all of our training articles. Please sign up for our newsletter today!  


Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 


Lessons Learned Templates & Guide: A Managers Toolkit for Continuous Improvement

14 Steps to Using Surveys As Powerful Communication Tools

A Model for Active Listening: Master a Skill That Can Boost Your Career

Overcome Complacency in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team



At ManagingAmericans.com we customize organizational tools that discover & unlock the true potential of individuals and organizations. Our focus is to align objectives, engage people & link strategy to execution. We support that effort with 30+ Expert Consultants providing exclusive management & leadership training & management consultancy services in one easy to use location.




Comments (0)

no comments posted

Leave a comment

Not a robot?