Notes on Giving & Receiving Feedback – Part 1

These are my notes from a workshop I attended at the 2018 Kansas City Developer Conference. The workshop was titled Learning Feedback with LEGO: Building Blocks of Giving and Receiving Feedback by Arthur Doler.

Before diving too deep into the topic of feedback, it is best to adopt this perspective and remind yourself of it the instant you recognize yourself in a conversation that includes feedback.

It can be very easy to confuse the delivery of feedback with the feedback itself. Many times, a person either giving or receiving feedback can get an F on how they gave or received, but the feedback itself gets an A. Try to separate the actual feedback from the delivery. If you choose to address the delivery, make it a separate topic (for later), keeping the main thing the main thing.

There are 3 types of feedback. Know which type you are engaged in and “Don’t cross the streams!”

  1. Appreciation
  2. Coaching
  3. Evaluation

Things to remember when engaged in appreciation. Everyone is not like you. People don’t process appreciation in the same way you do. Be mindful to watch the body language of the person you are conversing with. Some people are embarrassed by direct verbal feedback. I have a coworker that hates it. I love it, so I give it. This person finally had to pull me aside and tell me directly that it was awkward.

When you show appreciation, do the following:

  1. Be specific.
  2. Be Authentic.
  3. Communicate in a way that it can be comfortably assimilated.

Things to remember when coaching.

We learn through failure. There are a lot of people out there like me who hold ourselves to a higher standard (of everything) than we hold other to. Be gentle on the coaching side until you find that you need to apply a heavier hand.

Things to remember when offering an evaluation:

  1. Consider the relationship between you and the person you are evaluating
  2. Quantify and Clarify when possible

Don’t serve up the proverbial doo-doo sandwich. Everyone knows the pattern. You offer up a shallow word of praise. Then dump an atomic doo-doo, that gem you’d been waiting to deliver. Then cover your mess over with another shallow word of praise, just to make yourself feel better about what you’ve left behind. We’ve all done it. But… the dirty little secret (pun intended) is that all the recipient hears is the steaming mess in the middle!


Often times we find ourselves in conversation with friends or coworkers. The pattern of conversation dictates a give-and-take. That person tells us something. We can’t just stare blankly back. We’re stuck. We have to give some form of feedback. The typical fallback for most of us guys, “Uh huh”, is inadequate. In this situation, we are acting as a “mirror.” When “mirroring”, we are forced to choose between two paths.

  1. The supportive mirror
  2. The honest mirror

When engaging in the supportive mirror. Look for ways to be emotionally supportive.

When engaging in the honest mirror, you may fall prey to thinking you are going to grow your relationship with this person. They must be open (vulnerable) to bonding, so you pounce. This may or may not be true. Proceed with caution. I have a relationship where the person on the other end of the conversation feels very free to tell me which type if mirror they want from me. I find this a bit awkward, but I’m willing to learn from it. Sometimes the supportive mirror is what’s required, requested, appropriate.

Here’s another concept that I was completely unfamiliar with. The “Label.” A label is a tag word or phrase that gets plucked out of a line of feedback by the recipient. The full phrase is lost in the blah-blah-blah of conversation, but the label sticks like glue to the recipient. The lifecycle of the label is this.

  1. It is identified.
  2. It is interpreted.
  3. It is turned into a data point in the conversation.

The key to understanding labels is exactly that, understanding labels. If you can identify them in conversation and understand how they are processed, you can markedly improve your ability to both give and receive feedback.

This sounds very straightforward. However, often it is not. Take this simple example.

Feedback Giver: “I really need for you to be more assertive.”

All the feedback receiver hears is the word “Assertive.” He’s thinking, “What? What did I just hear? What does that mean? Did he just say I’m meek? Seriously, I’m a woosy? Do I need to project more?” The receiver is now trying to interpret what he’s just heard. He goes for some clarification.

Feedback Receiver: “What do you mean by that? What did I do to lead you to that conclusion?”

Feedback Giver: “You were too laid back when Jim confronted you about…”

And finally, the fully interpreted label becomes a data point.

Feedback Receiver: “Oh, I guess I could have responded to Jim with…”

When giving critical feedback, know your place. If you are someone’s direct boss and you need to give critical feedback, you are allowed to take somewhat of a different approach than if you are a co-worker and asked to give critical feedback.

When giving critical feedback, strive to accomplish these goals:

  1. Clarify the advice with as much give-and-take as required to make the advice clear.
  2. Clarify expectations and consequences
  3. Wrap it in some scope – consequences (both long and short term if you don’t capitulate)


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