Practicing the “F” Word: Using Feedback to Build Better Teams

by Elaine Lin Hering
“Can I give you some feedback?”
The voice in our head shouts “No!” even as we smile and mumble “Sure”, almost convincingly.

Feedback is key to effective relationships and team collaborations. Yet many of us have a conflicted relationship with it. At its best, feedback helps us learn, grow, iterate and scale. At its worst, it festers, divides teams, reinforces barriers and is downright painful.

How can we use feedback to improve our relationships?

Be clear on your purpose.
There are actually three different kinds of feedback. Each kind addresses a different purpose, and we need all three.

  1. Appreciation – is what we often think of as positive feedback. It’s props, it’s recognition, it’s also others telling you to keep doing the things you’re doing because it’s working. Appreciation helps people stay engaged and feel recognized for what they bring.

  3. Coaching – is any advice on how others think you could be more effective – in your role, on the project, and in life. We know this as “constructive criticism” or “deltas”. Coaching – always looking for how to make things better – is what enables high-performing teams to collaborate.

  5. Evaluation – is how we’re tracking against expectations, it tells us where we stand and what to expect. It gets a bad rap in the form of performance appraisals or reviews, but really provides a baseline for us. Are we good? We’re good.

Each of us needs different proportions of each type of feedback, at different times. On highly effective teams and in good relationships, people feel appreciated, have ways to learn and grow, and also aren’t left wondering where they stand.

Feedback Practice Tip 1:
Don’t know what types of feedback people on your team need or want? Talk about the three different types of feedback as a team, and regularly ask – “What types of feedback do you want more of?”

Coach your coaches.

Hate emojis? Prefer live conversation to chat? Want people to be super direct with you?

Sharing your preferences lets others know that you’re wanting feedback. It also takes some of the guesswork out of when, where, what, how they should share their thoughts. It helps you actually hear the feedback, and sets an example for people to be more comfortable asking for their own feedback.

Feedback Practice Tip 2:
What do you know about yourself and how you best receive feedback that you could share with others? Coach your coaches to make it easier for them to give you feedback you can hear.

Understand each others’ feedback preferences.
You have an idea of how you best receive feedback. But, what about others’ preferences? We’re all wired differently.

Some of us are more direct, some are more sensitive.

Some need a lot of Appreciation, some roll their eyes at Appreciation and wish we could just get to figuring out how to be better – i.e. the “real stuff”.

We tend to give feedback to others in the way that we would prefer to receive it. But – no one’s exactly like us. I’d prefer people give me coaching by chat so I can have my own reaction – take some deep breaths, think it through – before responding to you. My coworker, Naveen, prefers just turning to me to talk about it directly, which interrupts my workflow and makes me even more annoyed.

Feedback Practice Tip 3:
What are others’ pet peeves? How do they best receive appreciation? If you have coaching for them, what advice do they have for how you can best get through to them? If you don’t know, ask!

Make feedback (and how you’re giving and receiving it) discussable.
Understanding each others’ feedback preferences and needs enables you to support one another’s learning, growth and productivity. Rather than skirting the issues or creating workarounds, you figure out how to work together in a way that fits both of you. It takes practice to understand and agree on how to best give and receive feedback on a team, but learning how to work better with the people on your team will build connection and enable you to turn differences into strengths.

The more you practice, and talk about the aspects of feedback you’re practicing, the more likely your whole team will start to give and receive feedback more effectively.

For more on how to change the feedback culture on your team, check out Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It’s Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, or email Elaine Lin Hering at