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Giving and Receiving Feedback: Why You’re Probably Doing It All Wrong

What do you feel when you hear the word feedback? I’m not asking what you think about it but how you feel.

Maybe you feel anxious, nervous, defensive, misunderstood, exhausted, judged or criticized. You’re not alone. I’m sure we’ve all felt some or all of these feelings during our careers. You may not know it, but these feelings have a name: baggage.

“This [baggage] is what gives you the negative self-talk,” Carolyn Mooney, Owner and Coach of Enough, LLC, told attendees at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit in D.C. Baggage leads people to believe the lies that they are not enough.

Somewhere down the road, whether it was in middle school or at your first job, we started picking up baggage. Maybe you had a bad experience with a teacher or a boss who berated you. Those experiences shape how we interact with others and how we perceive ourselves, and some of us may not realize it.

Another point Mooney made is that many of us talk about our feelings concerning feedback from the perspective of the person receiving — and not giving — feedback. If we’ve had negative experiences receiving feedback in the past, then our feelings about it will inevitably be negative.

So how do we change that mindset and understand how baggage affects everything we do, including giving and receiving feedback?

We first have to understand how the baggage got there, using self-reflection. Ask yourself:  Where am I picking up my baggage? What do I think when feedback happens? What do I think when someone gives me a compliment? After you figure out your baggage you can then start to identify the baggage that others are carrying.

We must also understand what feedback is and the purpose it serves. Mooney explained that there are two types of feedback: constructive (you need to do better) and complimentary (you did a good job).

Feedback should be used to tell someone something, teach or train them in a given area or to advise someone. For supervisors, it’s about more than telling your employees. You have to show them.

“If you give feedback and it doesn’t fall into one of these three categories, your baggage is talking,” Mooney said. She stressed that feedback should not be personal but rather based on facts. And everyone should be responsible for giving feedback because that’s crucial to having a collaborative environment.

She shared this six-step process for providing feedback:

For supervisors

  1. Engage employees all year long. Provide feedback as it is happening. You have to meet your people where they are, not where you are. Convince them through trust, honesty and respect that you are worth following. Not sure where to start? Try asking them these questions: What’s on your mind? What is the real challenge for you? What else? What do you really want? What’s next?
  1. Notice baggage, especially when going into a feedback situation.
  1. Outline and discuss. If you are going to provide employees with feedback, don’t sneak attack them. Tell them why they are there, what you need them to do and how you will help them get there.
  1. Uncover obstacles. Ask employees what is in their way and what is prohibiting them from meeting their goals. Blame does not equal the solution. Have them uncover obstacles. Do not provide them answers. Stop digging, shut up and let them talk.
  1. Set goals. Provide process and framework for them to do that. Set goals that you agree on and goals that are realistic.
  1. Help them. If you are in a place to provide feedback, step up to the plate 100 percent. Don’t drop the bomb and walk away.

For employees

  1. Engage supervisors the entire time. Make your supervisor the supervisor you need that person to be for you. You two are a team. It is unfair for you to have expectations of someone without telling them. Tell them what you want them to be for you.
  1. Notice your baggage. If you are being defensive, ask yourself why. Be aware of the ripple effect of your baggage. It doesn’t just affect you. You are dragging it behind you and knocking people over.
  1. Outline and discuss. Ask your supervisor what are their expectations of you.
  1. Uncover your own obstacles. You have to take ownership of obstacles. Tell supervisors you recognize where you are having trouble and if they can help you overcome certain obstacles.
  1. Set goals. If your supervisor doesn’t provide goals for you, set your own. If the goals in place are unrealistic, talk to your boss about it and explain your concerns and what is feasible.

6. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to tell your boss know if and when you need a hand.

This blog post is a recap of a session that took place at the recent Next Generation of Government Summit. Want to see more great insights that came out of NextGen? Head here.

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Great advice, too often those giving and receiving feedback are not talking about the baggage concerning it. When I give feedback I try to really listen and uncover the small pieces of baggage that tell a bigger story.

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thanks for the feedback, Robert. : ) You’re right, uncovering the baggage is a huge part when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Listening is key. We also have to be aware of our own baggage.

David Kuehn

When I receive feedback, I feel thankful. Not getting feedback is being left in the dark. As a leader giving feedback is an important responsibility.

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Great points, David. Feedback is an important part of the professional development process, and I do appreciate leaders who take the time to share it with their staff. Keep up the great work!


This fits in perfectly with my organization’s “culture of compliance” initiative; we’re talking with leaders, managers, and supervisors about the importance of accepting feedback (in particular, “bad news”) and facilitating open communication. I think they would find the tips very helpful. Nicole, would you mind if we republished all or part of your work (with attribution, of course)?

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Hi Becki, I’m so glad to hear that these tips are helpful for your organization. Please keep me posted on how the initiative goes. We’re fine with you republishing the article with author and company attribution.