Ep 18: How to have powerful, positive, and productive feedback conversations

October 4, 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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As humans, we crave feedback because we want to learn and grow. 

But let’s face it, feedback often sucks, and stats from Gallup show that less than one in five managers think they’re effective at giving feedback! Let’s change that! 

This episode’s for you if you’ve ever felt tongue-tied or uncomfortable giving feedback or perhaps you just avoid giving it.

I’ll share how you can give honest, kind, and effective feedback that people love to receive and that actually makes a difference. We’ll cover: 

  • The three different kinds of feedback we need to thrive 
  • The positivity ratio in feedback
  • Two easy-to-use frameworks that can help you structure feedback so it’s easier for you to give and for others to receive
  • And so much more! 

Imagine how good it would be when you no longer avoid the conversations that you know will grow yourself and others too. Tune in for powerful, positive, and productive feedback conversations. 

Want to listen? Just click play below!

Prefer to read? Check out the article below.

Thrive giving feedback: how to have powerful, positive and productive feedback conversations

What did your last feedback conversation look like? How did it go? How did you and the other person feel? If you were giving feedback, did you know what to say in order to make your feedback powerful, positive, and productive? Given in the right way, feedback can empower someone and enable individuals to truly thrive. 

Why should feedback conversations be positive?

Boosting confidence can often be the fastest way of helping someone learn and grow; fundamentally, people want to improve. Many see feedback as a negative process with ‘negative feedback’ or ‘constructive criticism’ being the most common type of feedback. Research from positive psychology shows positive feedback has a much more substantial impact. Barbara Fredrickson suggests that a ratio of at least three to one is needed in favour of positive feedback and some indicate a ratio of five to one is needed in order to make a real, genuine, and positive difference. 

Building on the ratio has three core benefits: 

  1. It supports the creation of a strengths-based culture, which has been proven to increase productivity and performance over time. 
  2. Being seen through the lens of our strengths is empowering; we feel seen for who we truly are. Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory shows that increasing our positive emotions leads to improved processes, creativity, greater resilience, greater performance, trust, better negotiation, decision-making skills…basically, better everything! We feel better about ourselves which means we are more open to learning.
  3. When we spot strengths and positive behaviours in others it can change how we show up in a conversation. We can then really start to support and counteract any kind of negativity bias we might have. 

If we think about all feedback as being to help someone learn and grow it changes the overall impact. We need positive feedback, rather than the negative, critical type. 

Feedback that makes us thrive

Identifying the type of feedback and the kind of dialogue you need to have is key to any feedback conversation. The book ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen helped me to develop my thinking around feedback. They discuss how we should separate it into three different kinds and here’s my take on it. The three types of feedback we need to satisfy our human needs are: appreciative, developmental, and evaluative. 

Appreciative feedback is what we give and receive when we are highlighting something that has been done well. It’s the type of feedback we give when we say thank you to someone or thank you for just being you. It works best when it’s authentic, specific, and strengths-based. It should not simply be praise. Rather than “great job on the presentation, Sarah”, more meaningful feedback might be “Sarah, you have got a real strength for communication. In particular, an ability to create a story in your presentations that brings the audience along with you and helps create awareness and understanding”. The second example is much more specific and it truly highlights strengths and their impact. 

The second type of feedback is developmental feedback – feedback that’s intended to help us improve. It can show us a different or better way to do something and help us to grow. This is essentially a coaching approach and engages somebody in thinking and owning the best way forward – it’s a dialogue (where ideas are shared and a way forward is co-constructed), rather than a monologue (something that is just delivered). Which do you think has more impact?

Finally, evaluative feedback tells us how well we are doing in comparison to others or to a specific standard. It aligns expectations and clarifies consequences as well. 

There are three questions to think about when it comes to a feedback conversation and the impact it has on motivation and performance. 

  • Do I need to tell this person what they’ve done wrong? Or, do I need to tell them that something needs to be fixed?
  • Are they aware of it? And, are they keen to actually put it right?
  • Will they actually just perform better if I praise them for their strengths and leave them to get on with it? 

Quite often we don’t think about these questions, instead, we let something slide, don’t have the conversation at all, or tell somebody what they’ve done wrong. Think of a time you may have done this, what was the impact of your words? Did anything change?

The GAIN – Feedback Framework

It’s another handy mnemonic for you!

Get permission

This is the same as the G in GROWTH which we explored in last week’s blog post. If you’ve not read it, you can do so here. To seek permission you could say:

  • “I’ve got something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us to work together more effectively. Is now a good time to talk?”
  • “May I share something that’s coming up for me?”
  • “May I make a suggestion?”

By asking permission, you are building respect and trust. If they say “no” you need to respect the no. You could then ask when would be a good time. The “yes” needs to be there so that they will be able to hear the feedback and engage in a powerful conversation with you. 


Something that you have observed without blame or judgment. It is simply a description of the other person’s behaviour. Describe the behaviour with a concrete example, such as:

  • “When you spoke over the top of me in the team meeting today…”
  • “When you missed the deadline for reports…”


The description of the effect that specific behaviour had. Here you can use phrases such as “I feel” or “I think”. Such as “I felt hurt and disrespected”. This is very different to saying “you are so disrespectful”. You can also illustrate the impact, “the impact is…”. Be aware whenever you are using adjectives and be mindful when you are starting a sentence with “you are”.

Next steps

This is important because you bring the person into a conversation. You want to invite them to have a dialogue, rather than this be a monologue. You could say: 

  • “Would you be willing to…?
  • “How might we…”
  • “What are your thoughts about…?”

Let’s take a look at some complete examples of developmental feedback. With both, you would have sought permission first. Try to identify the Action, Impact, and Next steps: 

Example 1

“When you missed the deadline on Thursday morning, I felt stressed as I had to finish the project on my own.

The impact of this was that it wasn’t as high quality as it could have been. I really do appreciate your input, so this was difficult for me on a number of levels. How will you ensure you meet the next deadline?”

Example 2

“When arguments happen in team meetings, like this morning, I notice that we lose focus and we waste time. I’d love us to be more collaborative about resolving our differences so that we can get more done together. How might we address concerns without arguing next time?”

You can also use GAIN with appreciative feedback. You might say:

 “Your presentation this morning was really informative and challenging, yet it was super fun and engaging for participants too. You’ve inspired me and I would love to create sessions like this too. Could we have a meeting where you can share some tips for designing with me? Would that be okay?” 

Or, “You communicated with all stakeholders clearly and frequently on the last project. This really helped to keep us on track. How can you help us to do that on this project?”

Both of these examples are acknowledging and building on strengths and the positive impact that somebody has had previously. 

The “Notice and Question Combo” Feedback Framework

This one is great for in-the-moment feedback when we want to engage somebody in dialogue about something we are experiencing in the here and now. For example, if someone is not listening to you in a meeting and you want to address this, rather than saying “you’re not listening to me” which alienates, you could share what you notice in a non-judgemental but specific way and then ask a question to a specific individual:

  • “I’m sensing that you’re a little distracted. What would be helpful for you now?”
  • “I’m noticing you haven’t said anything in a few minutes. What’s going on for you?”
  • “I’m noticing that you haven’t asked me any questions about this. What are you taking from what I’ve shared?”

We can also use this strategy for something more appreciative: 

  • “I love your use of language there. Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “I noticed you asked some powerful questions in the meeting. Could you share some tips with me?”

Remember, we’re using this on top of the GROWTH principles in the previous article. When we know that someone cares about us, that someone wants the best for us, and tells us honestly what they are experiencing and feeling it can be truly transformational and allow us to thrive. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to build a culture of feedback, learning and growth, beyond what I cover in these articles or my podcast, please send me a message because I have a range of programmes – coaching and training – that can support you in this area. 

And look out for next week’s instalment in the series as I’ll be exploring something that’s rarely talked about and even more rarely taught in feedback programmes, and that’s how to get better at receiving feedback – even if you didn’t ask for it, want it, and you think it’s just plain wrong!