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THE TRUTH ABOUT FEEDBACK – how critical is it for your success?

Supposedly, "feedback is the breakfast of champions'', according to a famous business guru. But is it?

Feedback tells you what others think of your performance. And how you should improve it. Yet according to research, telling you won’t help you to thrive and excel.
Worse, saying how you should improve may even prevent you from learning.

An important reason why feedback fails to help is that it is based on other people being more aware of your weaknesses than you are. It’s as if you don’t realise your dress sense at work is all wrong. Or that you are unaware that your communication is boring and doesn’t have an impact. Or you’re blind to your deadlines slipping.

So, managers, supervisors and colleagues set out to correct your faults. They think you won’t know something’s wrong unless they tell you. This is faulty logic in most instances. You almost certainly know when you’re not performing at your best. Being slammed with negative feedback can be entirely unhelpful.

Another misguided assumption about feedback is that you don’t realise how to improve your skills. For example, if you’re in sales, you can’t expect to close deals unless you learn specific techniques, such as “mirroring and matching” your prospect.

So, feedback can help you to develop those missing skills. But will it? People tend to know they're missing specific skills. Their real problem is often getting their employer to train them appropriately.

Yet another misleading feedback approach relies on comparing you against some ideal model of how you should perform. So, the feedback comes as, “this is what excellence looks like.”

For example, it reveals that you must catch up to the ideal. So that once you know you’re falling short, you are expected to remedy your shortcomings.

But this justification for someone giving you a big slab of feedback is that somehow they know precisely what excellent performance looks like and can analyse and describe it. Such precise feedback should also be transferrable from one person to another.

For example, do you want to be a successful leader in your organisation? Then look at the existing leader and be like that person. But what works for your CEO or senior manager as a leader would not necessarily work for you.

Also, feedback that tells you what you’re doing wrong or badly seldom improves performance.

On hearing discouraging feedback, many people become defensive or feel attacked.

Instead, what lands well is learning what does work.


Here’s how you might respond when someone at work kindly offers you feedback

You don't need to use these exact words; adapt them to your personal style.


Helpful feedback depends on two essentials:

  • It’s encouraging and supportive rather than critical and negative

  • You actively want the feedback, and it's not imposed on you.

It’s most likely to be effective when it’s about:

Personal Growth: clear examples of what you’re doing well and why you need to develop skills to help you create an effective plan to grow professionally and in your wider life. Without such positive feedback, it is hard to know where to start.

Motivation: it is seldom easy to feel motivated at work if you don’t know whether you’re doing well. Positive feedback can motivate you to keep doing well in your role and encourage you to continue succeeding by ensuring that hard work is always noticed and praised.

Creativity: feedback can positively impact creativity by encouraging a positive frame of mind. It can give you a better understanding of which ideas are successful and which may have different impacts. This information can help hone your creative skills and ensure that the quality of your ideas improves over time.

Morale: positive feedback can help make you and others feel appreciated. Knowing what you have done well can build your sense of worth, and high confidence will improve work performance.

Professional Relationships: constructive workplace feedback can build healthy and mutually beneficial professional relationships.

Goal Alignment: healthy workplace feedback can improve your performance by helping to align your personal goals with the organisation's.

To sum up

Even when “sandwiched” between more favourable information, negative feedback seldom proves to be supportive or effective.

It can be useful when feedback is invited and not imposed. When it's given constructively and empathetically, it can help you gain more satisfaction in your job by increasing success and improving your attitude towards development.


M. Buckingham et al., The Feedback Fallacy, HBR 2019,


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