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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Feedback

Why feedback determines if you succeed or fail relationally and professionally.

What do the best apps, companies, employees, innovators, parents, partners, creators, and entrepreneurs, among others, all tend to do exceptionally well? To me, the answer comes down to three things:

  1. They know how to give vital feedback in a way the recipient can hear constructively.
  2. They know how to receive it well; they don't take it as a personal failure but as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  3. They know how to apply it effectively and in a timely way.

Tech companies generally do this well. Ever wonder why your device's apps constantly get updates? Besides periodically producing that little blue dot on the app icon to pique your interest and subconsciously encourage you to revisit the app, good apps are constantly learning from users' use patterns and adjusting accordingly to be progressively more user-friendly.

Before agreeing to join Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg agreed they'd sit down weekly and give each other feedback for an hour. Despite the company's myriad problems (and Sheryl having left the company last year), their teamwork has undoubtedly been a massive success. It's not only this famous duo that thrived from proactive and consistent feedback but also most, if not all, relationships and organizations.

How you feel when your feedback is ignored or rejected may tell you what you need to know. Relationships often tend to break down when neither can take in and apply feedback from the other(s). Good bosses, partners, children, and students, among others, respond well to feedback. If you do something that hurts your partner(s), what usually works best is them telling you, then you fix it and check in afterward to ensure you successfully applied the feedback.

What does it feel like when someone won't open to the feedback you know they need to hear, if not for you but for others who know the person well? When vital feedback is rejected repeatedly, it can destroy relationships, families, jobs, careers, projects, countries, companies, and universities. Virtually all successful people and organizations do it well.

How to Give and Receive Feedback

What are some pointers to practice as you start?

Before giving important feedback, ensure that the person you're addressing feels heard. This means you understand their main points and summarize them in your own words before you tell them what they need to know, the essence of your feedback.

In other words, "connect with them before correcting." Connecting to their experience also implies that you understand how they're feeling about what they're saying. Listening adeptly really helps. If they feel you are connecting to their truths and experience, they're more likely to connect to yours.

Speak from your own experience with I-statements. Don't use language such as "you make me feel," as this places responsibility on the other for your feelings; own them as yours. In many ways, connection is the opposite of control. Tell them how their perceived mistakes impact you and what you'd like to change. Of course, this varies across relationship contexts, personal or professional, and situations or environments.

If it's a relationship with more flexibility, it may help to ask them directly if they're open to feedback before providing it. Their answer will save you a lot of emotional labor and speak to the potential for the relationship or partnership to grow. Also, if they say yes to this question, it sets them up to be more open to it.

Regarding receiving feedback: Try to keep an open heart, as it might be painful to hear. I recommend a lot of humility, seeing it as an opportunity to grow and strengthen the bond or relationship.

Pro-tip: if you want feedback, ask what can be better for next time instead of if they have feedback. That way there's more incentive to offer constructive feedback, whereas if you only ask if they have any, you may not get a useful response or or they just say "no."


I know it's not only hard and uncomfortable, but it likely also feels risky. Life starts out of our comfort zones. Not providing vital feedback and letting resentment and distance ossify can be even worse. A way to think about this is short-term headwinds for the purpose of long-term gain.

I'm writing this post while giving and receiving constructive feedback as non-defensively and openly as possible. It continues to be challenging, although it has become easier with time. Success with giving and receiving feedback helps build these interpersonal muscles.

One of the downsides of evolutionary wiring is that our brain prefers what's familiar, even if it's toxic. Even if it feels more comfortable: refusing feedback and staying stuck in the same ways can stagnate relationships and societies.

How do we grow as individuals, couples, families, groups, teams, communities, countries, and a planet if we can't give each other feedback, listen, and grow with each other?

More from Jason N. Linder, PsyD
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