Ep 17: Feedback reimagined: Unlocking growth, connection, and impact

September 27, 2023

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I'm Sarah — leadership and communication mentor.  I'm here to help you grow your leadership, resilience, and influence. 

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Feedback. It’s the lifeblood of learning and growth. It’s a gift. And yet more often than not, it feels anything but and we’d happily return the gift for a refund!

Today’s episode is the first in a series of four on feedback and this series is for you if you want to: 

  • Understand the challenges of feedback and overcome them
  • Become more aware of how you respond to feedback and get better at receiving feedback – even if you didn’t ask for it, want it, and think it’s just plain wrong
  • Give feedback that people want to receive and actually makes a difference
  • Grow a culture of feedback in your school or organisation.  

In today’s episode “Feedback reimagined: Unlocking growth, connection, and impact”  I’ll share: 

  • Why feedback matters 
  • 5 reasons why feedback can be hard to give and receive well
  • Some strategies and my GROWTH framework for reimagining feedback in a more powerful, positive, and productive way.

Tune in and learn how to transform your approach to feedback and create a culture of growth and development.

Want to listen? Just click play below!

Prefer to read? Check out the article below. 

Feedback reimagined: Unlocking growth, connection, and impact

How much time have you spent considering the reasons for giving and receiving feedback? Do you set aside time before a feedback conversation to really consider how best to provide feedback so that the experience for all involved is positive and effective? Do you know why feedback is so important, and not just because ‘that’s what we do’ or because it forms part of a review process? 

Why is feedback important? 

The first prominent reason is that it helps us to grow. Without feedback, it’s harder to learn, and without learning we don’t grow or develop. Our own experiences of how feedback has been shared (often in a not-so-positive way) mean that we sometimes lose sight of the overall reasons behind giving feedback in the first place. 

Secondly, feedback shows that we care. Data shows that feedback is often given from a deficit perspective – the need to fix something or someone, or the need to improve knowledge or a skill. However, when feedback is done well it comes from a place of recognition, encouragement, and love. It becomes a positive place for sharing observations, which may also include redirection. Feedback should demonstrate that we want others to become their best selves; it should show that we care. 

The notion that silence can be costly and dangerous is also why feedback is so important. If we don’t speak up or share something that’s important it can have negative consequences for an individual, for a team, for a school, or for an organisation. For example, if we keep quiet about a decision that’s been made, or do not give feedback to someone whose behaviour is causing problems in a team, this will cause issues. When done well, feedback can help us to avoid risk, and provides opportunities to strengthen communication, strengthen relationships, and ultimately strengthen results. 

The challenges of giving and receiving feedback 

When I first became a middle leader I found giving feedback challenging – in fact, excruciatingly painful. I was never given any training yet had to observe lessons and give feedback. I had no idea how to structure the feedback or what to say. Does this sound familiar? How often have you felt unprepared to be part of a feedback conversation? 

Once I trained as a coach my mindset shifted; giving feedback is now a gift, and by not giving feedback I am not serving the other person, in fact, I am holding them back. I developed a different language and a set of frameworks to support the feedback process. I have identified five core reasons, from my experience and research, why feedback is really hard to give and also to receive well: 

1. Our identity 

When feedback is done well it supports our shared basic human drivers including competence (we want to be good at what we do), significance (making a difference), belonging (being connected to others), and autonomy (having a sense of control). When feedback is given badly it has a negative impact on these drivers. Our own, past experiences with feedback shape how we both give and receive it. Prior experiences can really colour how we think about feedback and how we show up in any feedback situation. Building our own self-awareness and understanding our own feedback identity is crucial to navigating the feedback process effectively.

2. Language

The very term ‘feedback’ is often associated with evaluation and judgment. The language we use around feedback can create fear and hinder open dialogue. When we talk about giving feedback we can see it as a monologue, rather than a dialogue. There is also a high percentage of leaders and managers who don’t feel equipped to ‘deliver’ feedback and this results in increased fear and unsuccessful experiences, adding further to the negative feelings about feedback. 

3. Negativity bias

Our brains are wired to focus more on negative experiences, perceiving them as threats. This bias can make negative feedback feel more intense and long-lasting than positive feedback. This is called the Velcro-Teflon effect discovered by Dr Rick Hansom. When we have a negative, fear-based, shameful experience, or an insecure thought our mind wraps around it like Velcro. In contrast, when we have a positive experience such as receiving a compliment this can slide off us, like something might do in a Teflon pan. 

4. We naturally want to be liked

We worry that if we give someone feedback then they may not like us. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that we need to overcome as leaders. Remember, it’s not about you! It’s about helping them learn and grow. This is particularly tricky for senior and middle leaders in an international school context where the relationships and friendship groups are more tightly knit in the community. 

5. Being fearful of the reaction

We worry about how we might respond if someone becomes angry, defensive or breaks down in tears. These emotions are uncomfortable and it’s common to worry about the outcome and what might happen next. There is a feeling of uncertainty around the situation. You might be thinking what will the person say or do going forward? Will there be problems? How might that reflect on you as a leader? You may or may not have had the training or support to help with this, and the person you are learning from might not have had training either meaning less than desirable practice perpetuates. 

Reimagine your feedback with GROWTH feedback principles

If we start to think about feedback differently, we can reimagine it. We need to think first about how we approach feedback. Not the words and what we say, but the mindset, the heart set, and our intention for the feedback. Hopefully, the intention is to share information and guidance to support the growth of the other person. If we have the right intent, we can share any content. My GROWTH principles for feedback allow you to create the most effective feedback experience for yourself and for others, as well as being a handy mnemonic!

Gain permission

I genuinely believe that permission is the unsung hero of communication. It is also a way to show respect and to build trust. Asking permission to give feedback allows people to relax and to be more open to listening. This is especially relevant if the feedback involves a need for improvement. If the person is not in a receptive state whatever you say is unlikely to be heard or processed.

Recognise strengths

A strengths-based approach can really help you to recognise what’s working and the talents that each of us has. The Corporate Leadership Council found that when a conversation focuses primarily on an employee’s weakness, the performance of the employee declines on average by 36%. Alternatively, if the focus is on the employee’s strengths then the performance improves by an average of 27%. Those statistics for a strengths-based approach speak for themselves!

Outcome and solution-focused

Keep focused on the solution or the desired behaviour instead of what’s currently ineffective or seen as a weakness. This is about making sure the person is clear on what to do differently, rather than simply what not to do. Think of the phrase: you can’t teach a don’t! Share what is not working, but then spend the majority of the time on what you do want to see and the benefits and positive impact for the individual and others.

With examples

The most helpful feedback will give specific examples and does not generalise. Focus on specific behaviour and not the person. For example, how would you respond to someone calling you lazy and saying you’re always late, as opposed to them giving you feedback about being late three times in a week and then asking what you could do to get to work on time? Give examples of the desired behaviour. If you would like someone to be more approachable, tell them what that looks like, such as giving a big smile and saying hello to someone who has just walked into a room.  


Feedback is the most impactful in real time, or as soon as possible after the moment occurs. The frequency also matters here; don’t save feedback up to deliver all at once because it will simply overwhelm somebody.

Human, humble and helpful

Be aware of your own feelings. Don’t give feedback if you’re feeling triggered or angry in any way as you won’t be able to show up in a conversation with humanity and humility. You need to be ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that you might not fully understand the issue. Keep thinking about your intention for the conversation, making sure that your goal is to help the other person to learn, to grow and to succeed. Otherwise, the conversation won’t be helpful and actually could be harmful. 

Have a think and check in with yourself: 

  • To what extent do you currently give feedback based on these principles? 
  • Do you need to improve your personal relationship with feedback? 
  • Can you reimagine how you give feedback to ensure growth, connection and impact? 

Try the GROWTH principles in your next feedback conversation and see the difference they make!