Mastering the Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Have you ever worked really hard on a project or presentation and either had to ask a colleague for feedback or had to ask an audience to evaluate you? Those moments when you know others are evaluating your work can be both exciting and torturous!  Nobody can deliver a perfect presentation, write a perfect paper, or design a perfect project on their first try. The best way we can improve is to get good, constructive feedback from others. Without feedback, we don’t grow.

And then the moment comes. You get to hear or see the feedback. Dun da da dahhhhhhh. All of that anticipation, and then, nothing! Or at least, nothing you can use. Sometimes, you get the “it’s great” or “looks good to me,” general comments, but my first thought is “what specifically is great about it?” or “did they really read or pay attention?” Most evaluations provide opportunities for the audience to include comments. But many times you get the same circled number on the Likert scale with no comments or worse yet, comments that are not constructive – good or bad.
Recently, I designed an online learning module to help teach senior nursing students how to “bully-proof” themselves before starting their first job. This project is part of my doctoral work and I was eager to try it out on a group of students. Sixty students from three different schools completed the module along with pre and posttests, and an evaluation. I couldn’t wait to get their feedback! I really wanted to create something meaningful for them and looked forward to revising the modules based on their comments. And then I read them. I cannot tell you how disappointed I felt. Out of 60 students, only 4 wrote comments – three of them were positive but not at all helpful. They were the token, “great module” and “very helpful.” Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy reading the positive comments but I specifically asked the students to give me constructive feedback and that my intent was to revise the modules based on their feedback. Oh, and the one negative comment? “Complete waste of time.” Wow. I had a visceral reaction when I read that comment. Really. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. The other 56 students just circled the Likert scale numbers – most giving me all the same number. Did they even take the time to read the modules? Ugh.
This got me thinking about the skill of giving and receiving feedback. Knowing how important feedback is, do we know how to ask for it AND, do we know how to give feedback in a way that enhances the person’s work?
Asking for feedback:
When asking for feedback, be specific in what you want from your evaluator? If you are doing a presentation, do you want your audience to evaluate your content, speaking style, clarity, etc? Be specific when creating your evaluations. If you write a proposal or create a program document, do you want feedback on your writing style, content, flow, etc? Be specific.
Tips: In addition to your specific questions, ask these:
1.     What did you like the most about _____?  Why?
2.     What did you like the least about _____? Why?
3.     On a scale of 1 – 10, how likely is it that you would recommend _______ to a colleague?  If you didn’t indicate a 10, what could be improved to make it a 10?

Giving feedback:
Giving feedback can be hard, especially if you don’t think the work is good. Most humans don’t like to hurt people’s feelings and are reluctant to give constructive feedback for that reason. That’s why sometimes we get the “great” or the same circled Likert numbers. It’s so much easier to make nice, general comments than to really be objective and perhaps hurt someone’s feelings.
Tips: Frame your feedback
When someone asks me to review their work and give feedback, I start by separating the person from the work. Then I frame my feedback in this way:
“This is what I really liked about it …….
“This is what I think could be improved …….
And then I give specific reasons for each. General comments, although if positive, are certainly nice to hear/read, but to really give good feedback requires that putting in the time and making honest, objective, specific comments.
Regarding my evaluations, after “evaluating” my actual evaluation, I realized that I wasn’t specific enough – I wasn’t clear on how I wanted the students to respond. I need to go back to the drawing board and revise the evaluation to give me the specific feedback I need to improve the modules.

Regarding the student who wrote, “Complete waste of time,” you really have to think about the intent of a comment like that. Did this student think consider how I would react to that comment? Was he or she intentionally trying to be hurtful? I guess I’ll never know. Although it still stings a bit (I am human), I brushed it off as a “this feedback was not helpful to me” and let it go.

I hope these tips help you to be successful!
Take care and stay connected
I can be reached at or on my website at

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