Feedback,  Leadership

Is your feedback really feedback?

2 years ago I worked with a team that struggled with delivering feedback to each other. Team members would try to express something constructively either to raise each others performance levels or to improve relationsships, but somehow something would always seem to go wrong and they ended up triggering each other. This damaged their productivity and morale to an extent that several people left the team. The remaining team members went through feedback training and coaching, and we looked at intentions behind feedback and how to construct feedback. Eventually they were able to have difficult conversations with each other in a constructive way that strengthed their morale and productivity. They also learned when to use feedback and when to use other tools which was one of their challenges – trying to make everything fit as feedback.

The morale of the story is that when we aren’t deliberate we risk damaging our working relationships, individuals and teams performance levels, and peoples self esteem. Unfortunately my experience from working with teams has shown me that passing on non-feedback as feedback is more common than at least I’d like to think.

Nine things commonly mistaken for feedback

Below are some examples of things (or tools) that we sometimes try to pass on as feedback. While some of these tools are valuable at times such as coaching, appreciation, and advice, other approaches are rarely valuable such as criticism.

Without any specific order here are nine things we try to pass on as feedback:

  • Coaching
  • Advice
  • Encouragement
  • Appreciation
  • Praise
  • Critique
  • Criticism
  • Complaints
  • Psychological evaluation

Can you distinguish between them? Take my quiz below and map statements to the types above. 🙂



What's your intention?

If you found the quiz above difficult perhaps the model below will help you figure out what tool to use when.

As an example, let's say one of your team members keeps interupting you which frustrates you and you don't want to work with her. What tool would you use in that situation? Would you try to coach the person? What if she hasn't understood that this is a problem, or what if she doesn't want coaching from specifically you?

Or would you try to appreciate her in the hopes that she understands that she should stop interupting you? If anything it's more likely that you'll come across as passive aggressive trying to manipulate her behaviour or the conversation.

As scrum master, coaches, consultants, and managers we're here to focus on behavior not psyche!

A word of caution, many of us with leadership training sometimes think we know how the psyche works and evaluate people from a psychological stand point, but we aren't trained for it properly so we shouldn't engage in such activities.

As long as the human psyche is your profession and you have explicit permission to engage in psychological evaluations go ahead, but otherwise thats an area to definately stay out of.

Challenge yourself

If delivering feedback is an area you want to improve in, one thing that Might be helpful to you is to verify your intentions the next time you're thinking of delivering feedback to someone. Perhaps your intention is not to improve your working relationship and some other approach might be more suitable.

I hope this post was valuable to you! As always, feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to chat more about this. :)

Thanks for reading!

P.s If you'd like to learn more about here are two other posts I've written about feedback.  What to think about when it comes to feedback. & The importance of feedback in self managing organisations.


  • Viktor

    One addition. Evaluation is another type commonly mistaken for feedback. Evaluations are used to improve performance and help people grow so it belongs in the top left corner. However, none of the statements in the quiz were examples of evaluations. One clear way to recognize evaluations is if the conversation is about someone meeting, not living up to, or exceeding expectations.

  • Ove Lindström

    Good one! And I “failed” miserably on the test. It is difficult to position the different kinds of statements that is used and disguised as feedback. The thing that strikes me is how often I see the three C’s (Critique, Criticism and Complaints) baked into a feedback “cinnamon bun” when it actually is pure bullying.

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