Volume 41, August 2004: Feedback

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2004 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Feedback is a term that psychologist, Kurt Lewin, borrowed from rocket science. A rocket emits signals to its earth station, which then uses the signals to course correct the rocket’s pathway. Translation: Feedback is for course correction.”

“Feedback is a gift.” — Terry Howell, Executive Learning, Inc.

“We would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” — Norman Vincent Peale


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • An organization coursing with feedback from customers, employees, managers.
  • Using that feedback for continuous improvement of all processes and systems.
  • Replacing old annual performance appraisals with ongoing performance coaching and feedback.
  • Shaping feedback as a gift.
  • Being honest with people about their impact, as part of being in authentic relationships.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Leaders get almost no balanced, accurate feedback. Invite critique of your leadership. How else can you improve? Here’s a story Margaret Wheatley tells about Dick Knowles’ Dupont chemical plant in West Virginia. The company was seeking a perfect safety record. Leadership put out 18 values they felt strongly about, re: people, leadership, etc. Then they told employees that it was their job to tell management when their behavior was incongruent with these values – feedback! Because of this framing, people began to focus on their own behavior while trying to catch management off course. Within one year, everyone had adopted the values, and injuries went from 83 to 0 and held at 0 for 18 months. The change happened because leaders invited feedback and changed themselves, in doing so.

Frequently Asked Questions

“I duck when I hear the word feedback, and so do most of my associates.”
Feedback has gotten a very bad rap, for the most part. People have veered from feedback, either from fear of “negative” feedback or discomfort with delivering highly favorable feedback. First, get away from the terms Positive and Negative Feedback. I like the words, “Reinforcing” and “Redirecting.” The latter fits with Lewin’s rocket science idea and systems thinking. Second, make the intention or purpose of the feedback absolutely clear. Let me offer an introductory invitation to receive feedback, that has worked for me: “If I knew of something that would help you be more successful, would you want to hear about it?” Make sure your intention is truly to help that person. There is no substitute for qualitative, face-to-face, well-constructed, well-meaning feedback. Employees will tell you they like feedback ,when it is narrative, anecdotal and customized to them in their personal situation.
“So what are the qualities of good feedback?”
Good feedback is:
  • Descriptive
  • Behavioral
  • Specific
  • Timely (close to the behavior)
  • Given in manageable amounts
  • About behavior that can be changed
  • Owned by the provider of the feedback ("I" statement)

and is not:

  • Purely evaluative
  • Vague or ambiguous
  • Labeling or stereotyping
  • Exaggerated
  • Attributing motive
  • Delayed
  • Lengthy
  • Complicated
  • Shaming or blaming

Example: “That report you prepared was well-written, brief, and made your points well.” Not “good report.”

“What if the feedback really is bad news?”
Feedback should create dis-equilibrium: the system that receives it is no longer stable and must grow or change to incorporate the new information (Margaret Wheatley). For those invested in system stability, this can be very threatening: that listener will shut down. Again, the framing of the delivery message is key: “I know you are concerned about … I thought you might be interested in what I have observed.” “I have a concern with … Here’s what I think is going on.” “This is what I think has happened … This is what I think needs to happen next.” “When you … I feel … I know that is not your intention. Here’s what I would recommend.”
“What about team feedback?”
Absolutely! This is the direction we are headed. No employee ever did anything in isolation of the system they work in. Teams can evaluate themselves and use this to improve their own processes. For example, at the end of the team meeting, ask all to share did wells/could improves. Give each other feedback. One exercise used with advanced teams is the “you could do: more of, less of, same of” feedback to each member, making sure members summarize how they will use the feedback (see Wilson et al., 1994, pp.217-218).


Instruction and guiding principles on feedback, the NLP way: Feedback.

Courses on Feedback: Online Business Courses.

Management training on CD-ROM: Providing Feedback: Employee Performance: Providing Feedback.

Key Associates designs and facilitates retreats in which teams can openly communicate, address trust issues, and provide feedback to one another in a safe environment: Products and Services.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Seeking out and acting on employee feedback, among other communication tips: Turn annual reviews into continuous feedback.

Some pointers for employee feedback and communication: Communications Skills.

Articles: How to Provide Feedback that has an Impact: Provide Feedback That Has an Impact.

How to Receive Feedback with Dignity and Grace: Receive Feedback With Grace and Dignity.


Books are linked to Amazon.com descriptions.


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