Management Essentials: The Art of Landing Feedback

July 23, 2021

“The key to learning is feedback. It is nearly impossible to learn anything without it.” — Steven Levitt, economist and author of Freakonomics

As a manager, you’re probably familiar with the “compliment sandwich” method of feedback—“sandwiching” a negative statement between two compliments to make it more palatable—but a recent study says it can backfire on helping your listener learn from their mistakes. So what should you do?

Giving feedback is a bit of a conversational art, as its foundation is human psychology. By understanding how our brains process information, we can better ensure the people we talk to receive and internalise our messages. But there are often roadblocks to landing these messages, resulting in feedback that misses the mark or is entirely ineffective. Let’s dive into why building the small habit of giving quality feedback can make big waves for your team.

Diffusing emotions

No interaction is completely without emotion, especially when it comes to feedback at work. It’s normal for us to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or awkward in these situations. As psychologists tell us, it’s something we’ve inherited from our stone age ancestors: when we sense danger, our brain has evolved to tell us to either stay and fight the threat, or flee.

Even though we don’t have to worry about lions attacking us now, our modern minds will still feel threatened by the potential “attack” of criticism, which will then trigger our defensive instincts.

For feedback to land effectively, it’s important to create an environment of psychological safety so that your listener knows that your intention is to help them grow and not to criticise them. 

Avoiding the feedback fallacy

“Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they're less defensive about it.” — Adam Grant, psychologist and author of Think Again

Often when delivering feedback, it’s because we want to influence someone to change or grow in a certain way. However, it’s shown that people will generally accept their own conclusions better than when they hear the same from someone else. 

According to Harvard Business Review, we struggle to receive and internalise feedback if it’s something we can’t understand for ourselves. So the next time you give feedback, try to give your listener space to absorb and reflect on how it can shape their own definition of success, rather than simply telling them what to do.

Letting your feedback-receiver be the one who decides on their course of action will help them be more invested in their decision and therefore more motivated to do better.

Why a culture of feedback is important

Does your organisation have a culture that encourages feedback? The more we give and receive constructive feedback, the more we make others feel valued and engaged. When feedback lands, it gives people a sense of purpose, helps improve employer-employee relationships, and most importantly, creates change in the right direction.

We know that giving feedback doesn’t come naturally—it takes practice to master the art of giving empathetic and intentional feedback. But this practice is important, as over time, it’ll help nurture a workplace culture that provides a safe space where feedback is not feared, but embraced as a part of an individual’s learning journey.

“Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there's feedback.” — Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author of Talking to Strangers


Want to learn more about how you can better lead your team? Check out the NewCampus Management Essentials Sprint, a 5-week online sprint aimed at helping you develop essential modern-day management skills alongside a group of diverse peers.