Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Four Things to Consider Before Providing Feedback

By Jacquelyn Adams

Recently, a colleague commented about how people are so often unwilling to receive feedback. It gave me more than a moment’s pause, as feedback is something that I value immensely. I think it’s my pragmatic side. I’m not too fond of wasted effort. Consequently, whether it’s something as small as giving a back rub or something I am heavily invested in, like my writing, I want to know how I can improve.

Compliments may have a pleasant taste, but challenges are the meat that provides sustenance in the form of an opportunity to grow. This, of course, is why it baffled me to hear about the perceived aversion to critiques. It made me wonder whether the issue is that people are unwilling to receive feedback, or how often we are at fault for poorly giving feedback. With that in mind, let’s review a few techniques that can help us give critiques more effectively.

Is it our place to comment?

Step one is to stop and observe ourselves. Is it “in our lane” to comment on this? If it is literally your job to offer critiques, this might be less of a concern. However, regardless of our role, some pieces of feedback are optional. Suppose it is regarding a habit that we deem annoying or anything not directly related to our work. In that case, it might be best to hold off and take it as an opportunity to build our tolerance and ability to hold our tongue. Because, regardless of how well we get on with our coworker, friend, etc., it is not our job to fix them. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is keep our mouths shut and do our best to influence their lives positively.

Assess the recipient’s confidence level

A second point that can make feedback contentious is when it is offered on a sensitive subject. I know my initial thought was, “I love feedback!,” but I slowly (and rather unwillingly) brought to mind the prickly topics where I struggle and am less secure. Yeah, I have to acknowledge that there are certain areas of my life where you can take that feedback and…

This is why it is vital to assess the recipient’s confidence before addressing their competence with them. If they are actively drowning, dumping a mountain of criticism on them will likely only increase the futile floundering. Instead of offering direct feedback, it might be best to start with a “check-in” to gauge their self-assessment, their ideas/concerns, and how we can start moving in a better direction.

Consider the moment

This one is a two-parter. First of all, just because right now is a good moment for me does not mean that it’s a good moment for the recipient. We need to assess our timing. Are they stressed, busy or taking a break? The best way to guarantee an appropriate moment is to ask if this a good moment, or ask for time to be set aside for the conversation, giving them some insights on the topic so they are adequately prepared.

The second part is, when possible, give them the feedback without requiring an immediate response. This allows the recipient time to consider the validity of the feedback, and hopefully drop some of their defenses. Whereas, if we move directly from feedback to discussion, those defenses can make finding a resolution difficult.

Review word choice

Finally, let’s discuss the actual critique. I think some of the most important words we can include in a critique are words that state our ignorance, and that is the best place to start. We will never have all the details, no matter how hard we try. The most straightforward examples of this are personal life distractions, such as death, illness, family, finances, etc. And that’s assuming we are entirely informed of all work-related details — a big assumption.

With that being the case, the best place to start is “From my perspective…” or “Based on the information that I am working with…” and make it clear that we welcome relevant details that they can provide. Additionally, be sure our words focus on a positive framing. We should not let our words get weighed down with failures and shortcomings. Make sure that the focus is on working together to improve, and that we don’t use words we wouldn’t want to hear ourselves. If it’s a critique we would have a hard time hearing, it’s probably a critique that we shouldn’t be giving.


So, while I still have my prickly points that can make critiques difficult, I hope that we can all work hard to be better feedback givers and recipients. It is such a vital component to learning and growth. Let’s keep striving, drop our defenses, and together work to create better opportunities.


Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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