Feedback is the term used in the following situations:

  • information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task which is used as a basis for improvement
  • the modification or control of a process or system by its results or effects, for example in a biochemical pathway or behavioural response
  • the return of a fraction of the output signal from an amplifier, microphone, or other device to the input of the same device; sound distortion produced by this

(Source –

Feedback is a word that was virtually unheard of until around 1920 and then it was used mainly for the third definition above.  Feedback meaning the giving of information or comments regarding performance (or how well something was received or not) as the first definition only surfaced around 1955.  Between 1960 and 1980 there was a great increase in the usage of the word and since 1980 there has been a steady rise.  The second definition refers to a reversion in a process to a previous stage or the source.  The similarity there is that feedback goes back a step in order to improve on the steps going forward.

What does it mean to you?

My first awareness of the word was the electronic sound distortion definition.  Each week I would go with my father to the local cattle market where he set up the microphones and sound system for the weekly auction before continuing on to work, dropping me at school on the way.  It was only years later that the definition regarding information and comments on performance came into my radar.  Personally, I have never liked the word except for in its use as the sound distortion.  It seemed wrong to have the same word mean something different later in life as I entered the world of training!

Whatever you think of the word, there is another split – positive feedback and negative feedback.  Often those who are starting to learn a new skill welcome both positive and negative feedback.  The positive provides encouragement and boosts confidence.  Those who have already gained a greater expertise often prefer just the negative, so they can pinpoint where to improve and concentrate.  Positive feedback for the ‘experts’ and the “Well done” comments are sometimes not taken in the spirit intended.

Everyday Use

This next part of this blog will focus on the work version of giving and receiving feedback as part of a performance improvement.  However, just think of the things that happen every day.  We may get comments such as “you look smart today”, “that was a lovely meal you cooked”, “you’re looking a bit under the weather today” and so on.  Our reactions to these comments are instant.  Is this feedback, though?  It is the start of it but not feedback in the true sense and although we have received a positive or negative comment, we do not get the reason behind why the comment was made.  Is it the cut of the suit or the colour?  What made the meal so nice?  Was it a tried and tested recipe that just went well or a venture into a new recipe?  If you are not looking too well, then you start to wonder what it is that gives that away – do the eyes look tired and perhaps you wonder what you can do to hide that in your appearance.

Feedback boosts or reduces the confidence level, sometimes temporarily, sometimes on a more lasting basis.  Here are some hints and tips when giving feedback, especially useful if you are a trainer or a coach to ensure your feedback is effective and hits the mark improving the performance of your team.

Giving Feedback

Information becomes feedback if there is a goal and certain actions need to take place to achieve that goal.

Behaviour not person

State the behaviour or action, then how you feel about it and finally what you would like to happen.  For example, “You were quiet in the meeting today and didn’t speak out.”  “I know you often have some excellent ideas, but I haven’t heard any recently.”  “Shall we see if we can elicit some of those bright ideas in a one-to-one chat later?”  This shows you noticed the quietness, recognise that the person has some brilliant flashes of inspiration sometimes but they are not forthcoming at the moment, and you want to give them a chance to put forward their ideas in a less pressured environment than a meeting with many others in attendance.  The opportunity to talk through any ideas that they felt were not worthy of disclosure in the meeting, shows you have confidence in that person and want them to contribute.

Objective and observed

You can only give feedback on what you see and hear.  It must be objective and observed.  The use of the Good-Bad-Good or ‘sandwich’ approach is widely discussed.  It takes the form of a comment on the positive, explaining where it did not go so well and then praising the good bits.  “The meat and potatoes were cooked to perfection, but the vegetables were a little on the underdone side for my taste, but overall and excellent meal.”  So now they know that they should continue doing meat and potatoes to that standard, but look again at the cooking of the vegetables and try to improve.  However they know that overall they are on the right tracks.  You only have to watch one of the Masterchef programmes to see feedback in action!

Facts and Timing

Base your feedback around What, Why and How.  The feedback should be timely and as close to the event as possible.  Consider asking the person for their response to each question first before you give your opinion.  Let them show how they felt it all went.

  • What – what went well and what did not go so well
  • Why – why were the good bits good and why did things go wrong or at least not so well
  • How – how can this be avoided in future – steps to take to improve

Remember any action plan should be followed up and performance monitored to check for improvements.  Keep the feedback going until the desired goal is reached.

Extenuating circumstances, a one-off

Is this behaviour or action a one-off?  Is it out of character for the person?  This may indicate there are some other factors that are affecting the person, so tread with caution and be aware that this may have a sensitive underlying cause.  However, if it is a repeated action that the feedback is designed to halt, then be careful not to discourage them completely or damage their self-esteem.


Receiving Feedback

A quick note about receiving feedback.  If the feedback is given correctly, there should be no need to take it personally, however, that is easier said than done.  Focus on the points you did well and give yourself a pat on the back, but remember that it is essential to maintain that level of performance in the future.  Focus on the areas for improvement and work on the solutions to achieving those goals whilst not diminishing any other areas.  Treat feedback as a contribution given freely and without malice to your continued success and development.  Thank the person for giving you their honest feedback – remember that it is often as difficult to give as to receive.


Also see our previous blog The Importance of Feedback for additional information.  In that blog we look at the thoughts of the learner and how feedback helps.

References to feedback are contained in many of our courses, particularly those in the Train The Trainer category, for example Training Skills For Better Performance.

20 Jan 2020

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This