We all live and work in a world of perceptions. How we think/feel that we are perceived by others is probably quite different from the ways in which others perceive us.

In order to influence and have a productive impact on those around us (peers, clients, bosses, staff, family and friends, etc.), we need to regularly engage in a process of reflection. In order to reflect, we need to receive feedback from others… and to help others in their reflection, we need to be prepared to give feedback. Productive feedback helps us become aware of our blind spots and shape our own development. Without it, we live conditioned by our own limited perceptions of “self”.

Positive feedback is a powerful tool to enhance self-esteem and self-belief. It often contributes to generate the “courage” required to try new things and to step outside of one’s “comfort zone”.

Negative feedback is a powerful tool to become aware of our blind spots and to work on self development and improvement. Without it, we are unaware of the impact we really have on others. By relying solely on our “perceptions”, we lack the objectivity needed to evaluate our real impact.

In some cultures (national, organizational, corporate, etc.), people avoid or feel awkward about giving negative feedback. It is seen as something which will likely be hurtful to other person. In fact, negative feedback is much more powerful than positive feedback. Through negative feedback, people receive powerful insights into how they can improve and shift the way in which they influence and impact others.

How can we feel more comfortable giving negative feedback?

  • Becoming consciously aware that our “intent” is to help the other person. It helps us to feel like we have permission to give the feedback.
  • Understanding that the other person is a mature individual who will appreciate our honesty.
  • Recognizing that giving the feedback is about giving value to the other person, and not about 
our own issues with giving negative feedback.
  • Letting the other person know that our intent in giving the negative feedback is both honourable and helpful.
  • Being sensitive in the way we approach feedback. Being empathic, communicating clearly, listening carefully, genuinely caring about the other person.
  • Being courageous to do something (giving negative feedback) that is clearly outside of our “comfort zone”.


– Planning a Feedback Session –

Concentrate on the positives

Giving praise is the easy bit, isn’t it? It’s giving criticism that we all dread. After all, it’s far more challenging. Actually, this is not necessarily so. In practice, managers will often underestimate the skills required to give praise effectively.

Praise can also get people to relax. So, in any feedback session, always begin with the positives.

Make sure that any praise you feed back is judicious, sincere and deserved. Take time to gather and prepare all the relevant information before you give praise so that you can be specific. Let the individual know how they have been successful, why it is you value that particular achievement and the impact it has had. Generalised statements will probably be perceived as resulting from a lack of real interest. If outstanding performance is brought to your attention by others, make sure you feed this back.

Spend the appropriate, proportionate amount of time preparing and feeding back praise as opposed to criticism. So, as a rough guide, if four out of five objectives have been achieved then 80% of the discussion should reflect this. If the fifth objective needs considerably more time to explore, then consider diarising a separate meeting to analyse the problems and solutions rather than letting it dominate your discussions. After all, you are reviewing the whole year and all their efforts and achievements in that time.

You can even create something positive out of problems. Try and think of the flipside of the situation, e.g. they are slow with the paperwork; yes, but they are accurate.

Focus feedback on observations

The temptation can sometimes be to feed back our interpretation or conclusion from what we observe, e.g. “Your work is slow”.

For example, “In the last week you have produced around four reports a day. The average is around eight. Let’s look at how this target can be raised in line with the average”.

It can be valuable to share inferences or conclusions, but, when doing so, it is important to identify them appropriately, perhaps in the form of a question, and making sure you give the individual the opportunity to put forward his/her view, e.g. “do you think your work is slow?”

Keep feedback non-judgemental

Word your feedback so that it is a description of what occurred, e.g. “the customer was left for 20 minutes before you dealt with their request”.

Keep your feedback neutral and try not to be judgemental (i.e. make an evaluation in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, nice or not nice). For example, you should not say, “it is terrible that you left a customer unattended”.

Leave out judgement-loaded words that imply blame, e.g. fault, mistake and incompetence, e.g. you should not say such things as, “you are the reason we lost that customer”.

Avoid emotive or critical terminology that could be interpreted as a personal attack, e.g. avoid statements such as, “this just highlights your inability to deal with customer complaints”.

Make criticism constructive

Treat the criticism as an abstract problem, not as a character defect. For example, “the quality of service delivery seems to be declining”, rather than “you are bad at service delivery”.

Refer to what a person does rather than comment on what you imagine they do. You will then avoid jumping to conclusions such as, “well it must be you because …”.

Describe actions or behaviours rather then qualities. So, you might say a person, “talked a lot in the meeting” rather than say he/she is “a chatterbox”.

Ensure you allow individuals to put their point of view across and take note of explanations or mitigating circumstances.

Above all, concentrate on what the individual can do about the criticism and how he/she can improve.

Think about the time and place

Deliver feedback at an appropriate time (e.g. not when someone is in a hurry to meet a critical deadline).

Present the feedback as soon as is practicable after the event; do not wait until their next performance review. There should be no surprises!

Equally, it is sometimes better to allow an individual time to recover from the incident, particularly if he/she is upset or angry at the results of the error or omission.

Ensure there is enough time to deliver the feedback in a relaxed way and without interruption.

Whenever possible, deliver feedback in private, ensuring there are no interruptions.

If you use your office, try to make it informal so that you are alongside the individual rather than facing them across a desk.

Focus feedback on the value it may have to the recipient

Provide feedback that serves the recipient’s needs rather than your own.

Phrase any help or support as an offer, not an imposition.

Whenever possible, treat mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Focus feedback on the amount of information that the person receiving it can use.

Thank your appraiser for their feedback and apologise, when appropriate.

Quickly move the conversation on to how you can address/ resolve/improve on any area highlighted. This will help ensure you master this particular issue and develop. You may need to ask for some support, further guidance and/or training.

Decide what action, if any, you will take. 
You might want to close the loop at some point in the future. This means feeding back to your appraiser any action you may have taken following the critical feedback and/or progress you have made to address and resolve the problem. You may want to decide on a time when you more formally review the issue, or you may like to offer this information when you deem it appropriate.


– Doing a Feedback Session –

Giving Feedback

The most important characteristic of feedback is the way in which it is given. The tone, the style and the content should be consistent and coherent. To give productive feedback, you should:

Be realistic. Direct your comments towards matters about which the person can do something. Don’t make suggestions which are impossible to be realized. Focus on what can be changed and suggest how this can happen.

Be specific about what the person did/didn’t do and what impact that had on you. Generalizations are very unhelpful. The person should be given sufficient information to pinpoint the areas of improvement and have a clear idea of what is being said about those areas.

Be sensitive to the goals of the person. The person produced the work for a specific purpose and you should be aware of that purpose and give your views accordingly. Link your comments to the person’s intentions. Listen carefully to what he/she has to say.

Be timely. Time your comments well. Respond promptly when your feedback is requested. To be effective feedback must be well-timed. Be clear and concise.

Be descriptive. Describe your views. Don’t say what you think the person should feel. Don’t be emotionally manipulative. You are offering your rational views. It is up to the other person to accept or reject them.

Be consciously non-judgemental. Offer your personal view, do not act as an authority even if you may be one elsewhere. Give your personal reactions and feelings. Be descriptive, not judgmental. Care about what you say and how you say it.

Be diligent. Check your response. Is it an accurate reflection of what you want to express? Have you perceived the contribution accurately. There is nothing more annoying than to receive feedback from someone who clearly hasn’t bothered to pay attention to what you have said or done.

Be direct. Say what you mean. Don’t wrap it up in fancy words or abstract language.

Create and maintain rapport. Listen to the reaction and maintain a dialogue.

Target the performance, not the personality.

Take ownership of your comments. Use ‘I’, not ‘you’ statements which can sound accusatory.


Receiving Feedback

In asking others to give you feedback, be open to it and to consider comments which differ from your own perceptions. To receive productive feedback, you should:

Be non-judgmental of the other person. Assume they have your best interests at heart.

Be explicit. Make it clear what kind of feedback you are seeking. The feedback from others is entirely for your benefit and if you do not indicate what you want you are unlikely to get it.

Be aware. Notice your own reactions, both intellectual and emotional. Particularly notice any reactions of rejection or censorship on your part. If the viewpoint from which the other is speaking is different from yours, don’t dismiss it. It can provide useful insights for your own reflection.

Listen closely and check your understanding.
Be silent. Don’t respond. Don’t even begin to frame a response in your own mind until you have listened carefully to what has been said and have considered the implications. Don’t be distracted by the need to explain. If you really need to give an explanation, do it later after the feedback.

You are free to decide whether you accept or reject the feedback.
Don’t accept generalizations. Ask the person to be specific and give examples. Ask for suggestions on how you can improve.

Thank the person giving the feedback!


Using the BOOST Feedback Model during your Session

Giving feedback is a key aspect of leadership, and it’s not only what you say that’s important, but also how you say it. The language that you use when giving feedback can be highly influential in changing people’s behaviour. Choose your words carefully to ensure positive reactions and outcomes to your feedback. We use negative constructions in our language all the time, and although we may not even be aware of it, it can have a major impact on the way that we or others behave.

Avoiding Negativity

Using negative constructions often causes us to think of the exact opposite. For example, if someone were to say to you: “Whatever you do, I don’t want you to think about an elephant”, what would you immediately think of? As illustrated, using negatives can be rather misleading. Using negative language can also unconsciously programme people to expect failure. If you were told: “You’ll find this very difficult” or “You’ll get nowhere by doing it this way”, you probably wouldn’t have much confidence in your ability to succeed.

Focus on the Positives

If, on the other hand, you focus on positive outcomes and use language that reflects this, you are much more likely to be able to create a mindset for success in yourself and in the person you are coaching/mentoring. This applies to both you and your team – as well as choosing your own words carefully, look out for the language used by the person you are coaching/mentoring and encourage them to think positively.

You can use the ‘BOOST’ feedback model (see below) to give positive and constructive feedback.

Balanced – Focus not only on areas for development, but also on strengths.

Observed – Provide feedback based only upon behaviours that you have observed.

Objective – Avoid judgements and relate your feedback to the observed behaviours, not personality.

Specific – Back up your comments with specific examples of the observed behaviour.

Timely – Give feedback soon after the activity to allow the learner the opportunity to reflect on the learning.



About Luis Soares Costa

From the very beginning, coaching has always been at the core of my passions.

For the past 38 years I have been an Executive and Team Coach working globally with CEOs and their C-Suite Executives, Business Owners and top talent in a significant number of the major global companies (including a significant number of Fortune 500), innovative companies operating in new ecosystems and dynamic family owned businesses.

During the past 28 years, I have also been an Executive and Team Coach and a “consultant to consultants” developing partners and top talent at major consultancies, Big4 Firms and Legal Firms

As an Executive and Team Coach, I partner with you and/or your teams in a “real play” thought-provoking and creative process which inspires you to “connect the dots” and maximize your personal and professional potential. The aim of the partnership is to bring about a sustained behavioral and performance transformation and profoundly shift the quality of your and your team’s working and personal life, whilst maximizing your potential and generating sustainable value.

You can contact me at coach@LuisSoaresCosta.com and visit my Website at www.LuisSoaresCosta.com