Feedback is a Gift - Treat it Like One


feedbackI’ve spent the majority of my career in IT, directing large project teams and organizations by building and supporting business systems. There was a lot of satisfaction for me during that part of my career, working with smart people to create systems that allowed our business to achieve aggressive goals. I look back fondly on what was accomplished by my teams and what I learned. One thing I learned very clearly, and was beautifully articulated by a previous boss, is:

“Technologies come and go…it’s people that make the difference.”  

After years of leading people in the development of the latest and greatest technology solutions, I recognize how true that statement is. It’s the development of people and making them successful in their work that matters above all.

Now that I’ve moved on from my career as an IT professional to my ”second career” at Dise & Company, I am drawing on many of my previous experiences with developing managers, individual contributors, and my own experience developing myself and my management skills. I talk to business professionals everyday:

  • Potential candidates for positions
  • Current and potential clients
  • People who have been outplaced
  • My own colleagues

The “gift of feedback” stands out to me as a critical learning from my past that applies to my career at Dise & Company. I give people feedback every day – how to come across better in an interview, why a candidate is not quite what the job calls for, how we can function better as a team – these are just a few examples. Experiences from my past work clearly apply to my current career in my position with Dise & Company.

Learn to accept feedback, especially in the workplace.

The first lesson I learned about feedback was to accept it, especially if you receive it several times. Quite a long time ago, I received the same gift over and over and did not want to accept it. It was: “You’re appearing defensive, why?” My immediate reaction was to not accept the gift, but to explain myself. “No, I’m giving you information, I’m answering your question, that’s all”. I should have said “thank you” and taken the gift the first time, but I didn’t. Eventually, I listened and accepted what was being offered to me, and what a difference it made! I reflected on the feedback and eventually realized that giving too much explanatory information was indeed a problem for me. I needed to learn how to explain and clarify my points with far less information and I later learned to do just that. I went on to give exactly this feedback to others who needed the same gift and it also made a difference to them. I’ve seen this work, over and over.

Tips for Accepting Feedback

If you are receiving feedback, recognize that you have the right to refuse it, but recognize that time, energy and thought went into the package you are receiving.

  • Be grateful that the other person thinks enough of you to want to help you.
  • Be open and listen, as hard as it may be to not become defensive.
  • Be curious – ask for specific situations if you are not clear.
  • Be willing to talk further about the feedback if you need more time to absorb it.
  • Make good use of the information, even if you are not ready to accept it all.

Learning to give feedback is just as hard or even more challenging than accepting it from others.

Feedback is a way to let others know how they affect you or how effective they are in what they are trying to achieve. It’s not easy to give and receive the gift of feedback. There are things I’ve learned to consider in the process along the way.

Tips for Giving Feedback

If you are giving feedback, make sure that you have clearly thought through how to package your gift, just as you would for any other.

  • Be sure to set aside enough time to deliver your gift and accept a response - don’t rush.
  • Be positive and respectful and make sure the person knows you have their best interest at heart.
  • Be clear about the problem that you are addressing, don’t use confusing language.
  • Be specific by referring to a specific situation or situations, don’t generalize.
  • Ask the person to assess how they performed in that situation and if they could have done better.
  • Be supportive about the benefit to the individual and their ability to improve.
  • Be patient if the receiver is defensive and doesn’t want to accept your gift.

As I think back on my initial reaction to the “shocking” feedback regarding defensiveness, I realize that I was not a gracious receiver of my gift. Of course, the giver was not as gracious as he might have been either, but that’s another part of the story. I’ve learned a lot about how to give and receive from that first very important gift.

Executive Search

Do you have advice about giving or receiving feedback in the business world? Share your thoughts below!


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Phyllis Webb

Research Associate, Phyllis Webb brings a track record of success as a senior IT leader. As a long term IT Director at Progressive Insurance, she has been responsible for managing large organizations and has directed the implementation of many large, multi-year, multi-million dollar projects.