Is feedback the breakfast of champions?

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Is feedback the breakfast of champions?

is feedback the breakfast of champions?

Feedback really should be the breakfast of champions! Life is full of situations where we need to give tough feedback. It could be to a direct report on a recent project that didn’t go well, to your manager who keeps interrupting you in a meeting, to your spouse who has been distant lately or to a colleague who has been leaning on you more than usual and you are feeling the strain. Unfortunately, we often put these conversations off because they make us feel uncomfortable. If we postpone it for too long, resentment could build up and we might react in the heat of the moment and have a counterproductive conversation that harms the relationship rather than helping it.

Feedback should be given in a way that is kind and helpful, while proving an opportunity to grow and change behaviour. It is no surprise that this doesn’t happen often enough because very few have had the correct training to do so. Last week alone, I heard some horrifying and damaging examples directly out of performance management conversations. One coachee was called “the weakest link” and felt so offended because the business was short-staffed, and she had recently agreed to take on significantly more work and was still adjusting. In turn, her response was less than professional. Thankfully, we were able to work through how she could’ve broken the cycle and given feedback that was constructive and helpful.

Here’s some Key Steps we explored that you can use to…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


  1. Ensure you have a positive intent and view things from the other’s perspective (i.e. practise empathy). Feedback is usually given to express appreciation, to reinforce a behaviour or to encourage a change. It should help the other person succeed or improve your relationship. It should not be given to vent, criticise, blame, finger point or to gain a psychological advantage. In addition, if you are still feeling very angry or upset, it is best to wait and establish your positive intent for engaging in a conversation. Don’t wait too long though…
  2. Give frequently and well-timed feedback. Don’t wait for a formal performance review to talk to a direct report about problems with their behaviour. Don’t wait until you just can’t take it anymore before your talk to your spouse. Immediate feedback can prevent resentment building up and repetitive poor performance. Of course, this does depend on the person’s readiness to hear the feedback and your state in giving it. Receiving feedback involves many possible emotional reactions. Constructive feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good. In general, remember that you can acknowledge and praise in public (unless you know the person gets embarrassed and really does not like it) and should correct behaviour in private. No-one wants to have their weaknesses pointed out in front of others.
  3. Plan the conversation carefully. What do you really hope to achieve? How will you open the conversation in a way that promotes safety? Saying, “I’m really upset about what you did, we need to talk” could put your partner on edge and fuel defensiveness. Rather try a gentler approach where you keep the purpose of the conversation and the importance of the relationship in mind. For example, “I’d like to chat to you about what happened. I value our relationship and really want to find a way we can work through this” or “I know we have been struggling to find common ground lately, I’d like to see how we can get back on track because I really do value working with you.”
  4. Focus on behaviour rather than judging the person. It’s important that we refer to what a person does rather than labelling the person. For example, you could say that a person “talked more than anyone else in this meeting” rather than they are “a loudmouth.” Describing the behaviour, like arriving late, allows for the possibility of change. Labelling the person “inconsiderate” is judgemental and can fuel defensiveness because of its attacking nature. No-one wants to be judged and found wanting.
  5. Be specific rather that general. Be constructive with your feedback and not judgmental. For example, saying “you are ALWAYS late and delay EVERYONE” will probably not be as useful as saying “Of our last four sales meetings, you’ve arrived 15 minutes late for three of them. The team don’t want to start without you, and this causes delays as the team try to shift out their next meeting to accommodate a late start. I’d like to find a way to ensure that you arrive on time in future.” Now it become important to…
  6. Explores options rather than giving advice. By sharing information, we leave a person free to decide in accordance with their own goals, needs and preferences. When we give advice, we tell a person what to do and to some degree take away the person’s freedom to choose. If the person is really not sure how to change their behaviour and you do have an idea that could work, pose it tentatively. For example, saying, “I’m wondering how you would feel about trying…? What other ideas do you have?” is more likely to open up a conversation about corrective behaviour and stops you sounding prescriptive. In addition, when people are involved in coming up with a solution, they are more likely to follow through and bring about the desired change.
  7. Direct your feedback towards behaviour that the receiver can do something about. Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of something that they can do nothing about. For example, while attending sessions online, audiences are often told to switch their cameras on. When many people don’t, I’ve seen facilitators become irritated and insistent instead of realising that everyone’s circumstances are unique. Some people might be attending from a one-bedroom apartment and not feel comfortable switching on their camera. It is so important to always take the needs of the receiver into account and, of course, you must remember to…
  8. Thank and appreciate the receiver. If the conversation goes well, thank the person because they played a big part in that outcome. If the conversation didn’t go well, you can still appreciate the person for their time and for getting the conversation started. It is very important that this is sincere and does not sound sarcastic or belittling. Then take a break and pick it up again when you’ve both has time to cool down or think about things in a different way. Feedback really can be the breakfast of champions and you can…

“be the difference that makes the difference

NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership and organisational development and transformation. She is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner. She is also one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s the Oscar of the speaking business.

Sharon’s PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that has been published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of Henley Business School and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. Sharon has become known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She is really looking forward to working with you and taking Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


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