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Those of you who know me and love me might ask “Whatever could Susan hope to gain from a feedback workshop”? Well, actually, all of you know that I don’t particularly shy away from giving feedback, but that sometimes I might not be particularly artful in how I do it. I also, like many others, have mixed feelings about how to receive feedback, both good and bad. So my goal was to find some nuggets of gold that would help me become better at both giving and receiving feedback to/from peers, direct reports, superiors (and on the domestic front!).

This PDC-sponsored workshop was held for the first time and the subject must be one that resonates with many as there were over 20 participants from many areas of the University. I was joined by ZSR colleagues Steve Kelley, Mary Beth Lock and Heather Gillette.

During the 3.5 hour session, we learned to:

  • recognize the role of feedback in improving performance
  • construct feedback messages that meet certain criteria
  • practice the skillful delivery of feedback
  • practice receiving feedback with grace

It actually was one of the more engaging workshops of this type I’ve attended in years. All of the participants were very open about sharing their fears and hesitations when confronted with giving or receiving feedback. We all knew that it is an important communication tool to enhance performance but it is usually anxiety creating and can damage relationships when not done correctly. You don’t need to be a manager to benefit from improving your feedback techniques – they are useful when communicating with colleagues, friends, and family!

Some of the tips for constructing feedback messages were divided into specific areas:


  • Recognize that it is your job to provide feedback, positive and negative
  • Assume the other’s positive intention
  • Consider your motives before you speak
  • Consider the effect of your “filters”


  • Strive for right: right moment (usually soon), right place, right style
  • Be sure you have your facts straight: verify your accuracy


  • Focus on specific behavior, not on character or motive
  • Use “I” rather than “you” statement to cut down on defensiveness
  • Focus on key issues – top 1 or 2, not many
  • Include how you feel about it
  • Don’t give away your power by talking too much


  • Get a response
  • Give time to absorb/react (sometimes this means tomorrow)
  • Verify that what they heard = what you meant

Future Focus

  • Agree on action steps
  • End on an encouraging note
  • Follow up

Although all situations are different, the facilitator, Linda Smith, provided a basic formula to help us thoughtfully construct feedback messages:

  1. WHAT: Identify a specific behavior
  2. SO WHAT: Name the tangible effect or outcome and/or describe your feelings
  3. (Pause for reaction)
  4. NOW WHAT: Action steps/future focus

Then we practiced with each other. Yes, we did scenarios and role playing, but people appeared to really get invested in the process and many good conversations came as we worked with our groups. And that was actually one of my main take-aways from the session: Constructing a good feedback technique is actually a way to create space for conversations that then become ongoing and a natural part of interacting in a positive way.

Watch out ZSR and RITS, I’m going to start practicing tomorrow 🙂