Why feedback is important even when you have nothing nice to say

By Dina D'Avirro Varacalli

You’re in the grocery store and you sample some new chip flavor, they’re good so you have seconds (and thirds). The person giving them out, smiles at you knowingly. You’re leaving the office and you bark out a frustrated “Excuse me” to the group of people chatting in front of and blocking the exit. They toss you a glare and shuffle out of the way. Call it criticism, opinion, evaluation or even a casual comment, feedback is just a reaction to an action – and we give and take it constantly, all day long.

We use the term feedback, especially in work settings, when we react to the actions or behaviors of someone. Effective feedback, both positive and negative, is an excellent thing that we should all want as often as possible, not just during formal reviews, but daily and from everyone.

Why is feedback so important? Negative feedback is both scary to give and frustrating to hear. Why would anyone seek this out?

Feedback can’t be avoided, learn to recognize and use it. Feedback is everywhere, in every interaction we have. Feedback isn’t just in formal written reviews; it’s in a smile, a shake of the head, a hastily thrown out “Oh, nice!”, or a conversation in a meeting that may start with “I’m not so sure about that”. It’s actually impossible to interact with another person and for there to be no feedback. Learning to recognize feedback and understanding that it is an opportunity, is an important first step. For example, hearing “Excuse me” as feedback instead of hostility, goes a long way toward learning to move over a few steps, and maintaining a happy disposition and friendly environment.

Proper feedback is effective listening which is win-win both when giving and receiving. If a person giving feedback feels heard, whether or not the feedback is acted upon, they feel valued and accomplished and are then likely to do it again. The person receiving feedback if they understand the message, they have discovered an opportunity for learning and growth. Imagine customer surveys when the customer is told their feedback will be considered during the development of the next version of your product, they feel they have input and feel valued. Feedback from customers obviously can help to shed light on product improvements.

Feedback can be motivating. If you proactively ask for feedback, you are more likely to have a thoughtful interaction. People feel valued and appreciated when you ask for their thoughts. That can boost their confidence and motivate them, which will result in better performance. If feedback is seen as an opportunity, people are more likely to have a “challenge accepted” moment to either continue to do well or to improve. Adding “Thoughts?” as a last line to emails is motivating for everyone.

Feedback makes you better. Positive feedback reinforces what someone has done, they feel happy, proud and accomplished. They will try to do it again and keep up that performance level. After all, who doesn’t want another high-five? Negative feedback is often interpreted as criticism and no one wants to be chewed out. But if it is seen as constructive, it suddenly becomes an opportunity to see where to improve, what to focus on, which new direction to take or, in short, how to get better. When Einstein first explained Special Relativity, he didn’t hear “this is wrong it doesn’t always work”. He took up the challenge, he worked to make it better, until he overcame its previous flaws and gave us his Theory of General Relativity

Feedback keeps you learning. Feedback can keep us all on the same page. Constant feedback means that we have less chance of straying from a shared goal or strategy. When you remind a coworker that not every end-case needs to be addressed for the mock-up presentation, or you get rave reviews from customers about the details in the new UI you developed; everyone is learning and working together for better results

It is important to constantly receive feedback to know when to keep doing what you’re doing or where to focus your efforts. Here, you can read more about how to best receive feedback. Giving constant feedback lets you be thoughtful about your work and gives you the opportunity to express your thoughts and maybe even open the door to working with people productively. Here, you can read more about how to give good feedback. Productive feedback means better relationships, improved performance and a desire to get better. Giving and receiving feedback, not just within a team but throughout the whole organization, means we can course correct and guide each other to being more productive and being better at what we do.