2 Additional Tips on How to Have a Productive Feedback Conversation

Last week we talked about a 1 Question Quiz on Productive Feedback. If you missed it, click HERE, but in summary, I asked you to consider the following three items in making your feedback conversation more productive.

  1. Become Biased for Action

  2. Consider the Relationship

  3. Appreciate what is Possible

What order do you think they should be in? I suggested Considering the Relationship as the first vital component to productive feedback. This week I want to break down the two additional tips.

Appreciate What is Possible

A conversation that includes possibility assumes a relationship. If someone is going to enter into considering a change by exploring what might be, they first have to be able to trust that you have their best interest in mind. This is a really important point. It is not a good idea to have an appreciative conversation with someone if they do not trust you. You may trust them implicitly, but if the feeling is not mutual then you do not have a relationship, so do not proceed.


Possibility starts with curiosity. Perhaps asking something like, “What could they mean when they say you are direct?” or “How could you approach your work so others feel valued?” would spur your team member toward thinking about what is possible.

Possibility is all about giving the person who receives the feedback hope for the future. As the receiver of feedback, I need your optimism that this criticism is temporary and if I work on it I can overcome the challenge. It is very likely that the person receiving the feedback has been very successful using this behavior in the past. If you consider the story above, it is likely this person has been rewarded for her technical expertise and that working in teams might be very new for her. Showing her a way out of her dilemma is what possibility conversations are all about.

In the end, it is really critical for the person receiving the feedback to own what is possible. You, as the giver of feedback, are helping them get to the place where they can see what is possible and that they can own it. As the giver of feedback, you cannot become the owner of the possible. You have to possess a keen awareness if what the person comes up with as possible will close any gap that exists, but the person receiving the feedback is always the owner and in charge of the possibility dream.

Become Biased For Action

Ahh. We are finally here. Helping the person put the plan together that closes the gap between how they have been showing up and how they desire to show up.

First, it is really critical to stop and ask yourself how the relationship is going and if the person is owning the possibility for change. If not, you are not ready for creating action. Go back and find the issue in the first two steps and correct this before moving forward. According to James Flaherty, too many conversations break down here because of power gradients. People are more committed to change if they trust the supervisor and if they are included in what the change might look like.

This next step is where you will be helping the person take possible into reality. This step is important so you do not stop at dreaming about what might be. You have to help them put a plan into place around what will be.

Commitment to action is what both parties are ultimately after. It is key to keep the plan simple and in the form of a few measurable items. These simple things have to be in the form of behaviors that are observable and not values or character traits. For example, in the story above, the person receiving feedback could ask more questions about why people on the team do things a certain way and then validate that the idea is a good one. This is both behavioral and actionable. Saying that the person needs to become more humble in working with teammates, while potentially true, is not helpful as humility is a character trait and needs to have behavioral actions put with it so that the person can act upon the plan.


So, as I had this conversation with my old friend about productive feedback conversations (Read the conversation here) the phone grew silent on the other end.

“You still there?” I asked.

“Yes, I am just reflecting on these three elements and where I am getting this all wrong.”

"You are giving yourself some feedback,” I said.

“Maybe so”, was his reply. “I am thinking I need to go back to the beginning and consider where the relationships with everyone on my team are really at. Do they trust me enough for me to even provide them with feedback? It doesn’t matter that the organization declares me the supervisor, I am only going to get necessary change if they buy into me.”

Spoken like a true leader.

Out of the three tips to consider, where do you see your greatest potential for growth?

Would you be willing to give ME some feedback? If so, I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

If you are willing to be contacted regarding the subject of receiving feedback, please enter your name and email address below.