Mastering the Art of Feedback: A Lesson in Discernment

Giving feedback is how we grow. How do we identify our blind spots if we don’t get some? But have you ever given someone some tips on how they can improve or what they’re doing wrong and they take it personally? Perhaps, they lash out at you, attack you personally, or get offended and defensive.

It sucks. I’m in my 30s now and have lived my fair share of life, and unfortunately, I’ve had to encounter this issue in the workplace and my day-to-day life often. It’s tough that people are so sensitive these days. It’s not like I’m that blunt. But I can do better! I continue to pay attention to how I can frame things more delicately or positively, rewrite my first draft a few times, and plan out what I’ll send someone in Slack, email, or in person. And sometimes, they still get offended! My worst fear is they get offended and we ruin our relationship, and that worst fear happens sometimes. But usually, it doesn’t lead to bridges being burned like I’m imagining.

In the intricate dance of feedback, finding the right moment to share insights can be a delicate task. The question lingers: when does feedback foster growth, and when does it risk becoming an unwelcome intrusion?

The reluctance to embrace feedback often stems from the fear of criticism or ego. It’s better to give and receive direct feedback than be passive aggressive. I’ve learned that from some of my favorite managers, daily life, and personal development programs I’ve taken. But a crucial caveat emerges – unsolicited advice should be approached with caution.

When you give advice when it’s not asked for, you’re likely surprising that person. Sure, that’s fine in a manager-direct report situation or in a culture where feedback is welcomed. But be very careful when you’re giving it to strangers, acquaintances, family, friends, or businesses you were a customer of.

The delicate balance lies in recognizing when insights are sought and avoiding unwarranted interference.

Harsh responses to feedback sometimes stem from insecurity emphasizing the need for maturity and awareness in navigating these scenarios. Ego can cloud judgement. How dare they think there’s anything wrong with what I did or what I offer or my claims. They are wrong!

In the grand tapestry of communication, providing feedback is a skill that requires finesse. Factors like authority, values, and communication style play a role. The simple yet powerful conclusion: choose wisely when to offer feedback, letting it flourish in the fertile ground of open minds and willing hearts. Use a praise sandwich. As mentioned in How to Win Friends & Influence People, you catch a lot more bees with honey. Be as positive and kind as possible. If you have to mention something someone does wrong, layer it with a lot of praise and frame the area for improvement as “it would be even better if…”

Nowadays, I keep my feedback to the organization I work for where fortunately, the culture is AMAZING and it’s pre-built to welcome feedback. Because there’s a lot of new employees joining, even in this org, I have to be careful and phrase things properly since they may not be as in tune or onboarded properly to this culture. Anywhere outside of work, I have to use a lot more discernment.


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In summary:

  • People often perceive feedback as criticism, leading to defensiveness.
  • Unsolicited advice is often unwelcome.
  • Giving advice implies superiority; refrain unless expressly sought.
  • Applicable in personal and business interactions.
  • Harsh reactions often tied to insecurity, ego, a flawed world view, or fear of inadequacy.
  • If you’re too close-minded, you never change anything and hence, aren’t open to new ideas or new results in your life.
  • Welcome direct feedback. Take it with a grain of salt if the person lacks credibility. But never react harshly back or defensively. Be open to new ideas.
  •  Don’t take everything personally. Some tips are regarding your work, the mechanisms/processes of a business, or non-personal things. It’s not a reflection of you as a person.
  • Providing feedback is a skill requiring finesse.
  • Factors like authority, values, and communication style play a role.
  • Choose wisely when to offer feedback, flourishing in the fertile ground of open minds and willing hearts.
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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.


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