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3 Ways to Give and Receive Feedback: Key Interpersonal Skills

Unlocking potential for personal, relationship, and professional success.

Key points

  • Giving and receiving feedback is what makes relationships work well and sets them up for growth.
  • The harder the feedback is to give and/or receive, the more important it likely is to express or take in.
  • We aren't able to grow as individuals, in relationships, and as professionals without some proficiency in giving and receiving feedback.
Source: athree23/Pixabay

What do the best apps, companies, employees, innovators, parents, partners, creators, and entrepreneurs, among others, all tend to do exceptionally well? They know how to give vital feedback, and they know not only how to receive it but also how to apply it effectively and in a timely way. They don't take it as personal failings but as opportunities to learn and grow.

Tech does 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 every week and give each other feedback for an hour. Despite myriad problems the company has faced, their teamwork has been undoubtedly 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 tells you all you need to know. Relationships tend to break down when neither can take in and apply feedback from the other(s). Good bosses, partners, partners, children, and students, among others, do well with feedback. If you do something that hurts your partner(s), what usually works best is them telling you, and then you fixing it and checking 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, jobs, careers, projects, and universities, among others. Virtually all successful people and organizations do it well.

How to Give and Receive Feedback

So how can you start? What are some pointers to practice as you start?

  1. Before giving important feedback, make sure first that the person you're addressing feels heard. This means you not only understand their main points, but you can also 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. If they feel you connecting to their truths and experience, they're more likely to connect to yours, although there's no guarantee.
  2. 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 context, whether it's personal or professional, and situations and environments.
  3. 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.

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


I know it's not only hard and uncomfortable, but it's also risky. But not providing vital feedback and letting resentment and distance ossify can be even worse. This is about short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. I'm writing this post and both giving constructive feedback and receiving it as non-defensively as possible continues to be quite challenging for me, although it has gotten easier with time. Success with it helps build these interpersonal muscles.

Refusing feedback and staying stuck in the same ways is what stagnates relationships and societies as a whole. How do we grow as individuals, couples, families, groups, teams, communities, countries, and even as a world if we aren't able to give each other feedback, listen, and grow with each other?