Giving feedback from a mindset of positive intent

By Elisabeth Goodman, 30th November 2020

Giving and receiving feedback is a challenging skill

There’s a lovely question in a variation of a 360 degree feedback tool that I share with my coaching clients:

“What one thing could I change for my own benefit?”

Barefoot Coaching, 2020

This is one of five questions in a Barefoot Coaching (2020) tool-set that we can ask of five people who know us well, and that are focused on understanding our strengths.

This particular question implies a couple of things:

  1. That the person requesting feedback is open to receiving it
  2. That the person providing the feedback will consider the recipient’s needs, rather than their own agenda in delivering it

How to give positive and constructive feedback is one of the management skills that attracts the most interest in our management training. It’s a performance-related skill that people are often uncomfortable about both delivering or receiving.

Reading Mike Robbins (2020) “We’re all in this together” really heightened my awareness of why this can be so difficult, as well as giving me some very helpful insights about how we could do this better. (Robbins’ books has quite a few other insightful gems, that I will explore in some later blogs.)

Start from a position of trust

Robbins’ (2020) language is more blunt, but basically, when someone gives us feedback, it’s easy to respond with some fairly strong, automatic, emotional responses along the following lines:

  • Fight: What right has this person to ‘judge’ me?
  • Freeze: I really don’t know how to take this feedback
  • Flight: I’m hopeless / no good

All of this can happen in micro-seconds, will block an individual’s receptiveness to feedback and can be a long way removed from a manager’s intent, which, ideally, would be along the lines of:

Here’s some feedback that I’m sharing with you in good faith, and that might help you to learn, develop and grow

One of the things that often impresses our delegates, when my colleague and I demonstrate how to conduct an appraisal discussion, is that we end with the manager asking their direct report:

What could I do to support you better and to help you be even more effective in your work?

What Robbins (2020) also advocates, is that giving feedback should be a two-way process between a manager and their direct report.

For me, this immediately changes the tone of the relationship from an autocratic (or parent-to-child) one, to one that is more in the nature of a partnership, collaboration, adult-to-adult one.

If a manager models their receptiveness to feedback as an opportunity for their own learning and development, then they will make it easier for their direct report to do the same.

Practise giving positive as well as constructive feedback

Another thing that we notice, when delegates ask us for help in developing their feedback skills, that their focus is often on how to give ‘negative’ feedback. What we also often find, is that they are not used to or comfortable with giving positive feedback.

What Robbins (2020) also reminded me is that leaders, managers and high performing teams are skilled in balancing “care and challenge”.

Caring for each other includes finding ways to express our appreciation – giving positive feedback is one way of doing this. Robbins quotes a Glassdoor Employee Appreciation Survey which found that 53% of respondents would stay longer in their company if they felt more appreciated.

When we feel valued, when we feel that the person giving us feedback cares about us, and expresses it with positive feedback, then it will make it easier to receive constructive feedback.

Giving constructive feedback then builds on the concept that it’s healthy to challenge each other to learn, develop and grow so that we can be at our best.

This focus on giving positive feedback is what makes Barefoot’s (2020) “Ask five people five questions” approach so effective.

Robbins (2020) takes this further and suggests that teams take the time to stop and share what they value and appreciate about each other, not only in team-building offsite activities, but on an on-going basis.

Concluding notes

There are a lot more useful insights in Robbins (2020) book, and I will cover some of them in future blogs. For the meantime though, here is a nice wrap-up on a possible way to develop a culture of giving and receiving feedback from a positive mindset of positive intent.

Robbins (2020) suggests that managers and their direct reports routinely ask each other the following feedback questions:

  • What can I start doing that would make me more effective in my role and in working with you?
  • What can I stop doing that may be getting in the way of being as successful as I could be and as easy as possible for you to work with?
  • What do you suggest that I continue doing that is allowing me to be effective in my work and helpful in my partnership with you?

What approaches to giving and receiving feedback could you adopt to foster high performance teams from a position of caring for and challenging each other?



Barefoot Coaching (2020). Course Tools Booklet issued during the PG Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching.

Robbins, M. (2020). We’re all in this together. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to achieve authenticity and autonomy in the workplace by enhancing their management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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