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Deliver Feedback with Intention

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Evaluate your intent when giving feedback and the receiver's intent in receiving it.
  • Explain the importance of adopting a growth mindset.
  • Describe how intellectual curiosity influences a culture of feedback.

Feedback That’s Delivered and Received with Good Intent

One of the most important, yet challenging aspects of giving and receiving feedback is ensuring that both the giver and receiver are coming from a place of good intent.

Think about feedback that you have given that was well received. Think about feedback that you received that felt welcome and helpful. Chances are, your relationship with that person was built on trust, mutual respect, and understanding.

On the flip side, have you ever delivered feedback that was not well received? Have you ever received feedback that you didn’t think was valid, or perhaps you questioned where it was coming from? Sure, we all have!

Even when you have to deliver or receive a hard message, it’s important to consider whether you’re doing your best to deliver or receive the message with good intent.

But even good intentions can go awry when the giver and receiver are “stuck” in certain mindsets.

  • “I can’t believe I have to share this feedback again.”
  • “Why can’t you just do what I say?”
  • “I don’t think this will ever get better.”
  • “Where is this feedback coming from?”
  • “This person is out to get me.”
  • “I don’t trust you.”

Making good intentions clear: From a manager perspective, how can I demonstrate I have my employee’s best interests in mind? From an employee perspective, what can I learn from this? The place of good intentions is made up of: benefit of the doubt, trust, mutual understanding, and alignment.Getting away from these mindsets isn’t easy, especially if thoughts like these have been going on for a long time. So how do you get out of this pattern and start making intentions clearer and more positive?

In addition to all the things you need to do to build trust with each other over the long term, there are some things you can do before, during, and after giving and receiving feedback that can help.

One approach is to ask yourself some simple questions from the perspective of the giver and the receiver. Then, give and receive the feedback with the answers to these questions in mind.

When preparing to deliver feedback, think about:
  • Intentions—Consider what you’re trying to convey and the short- and long-term impact.
  • Context—Clarify why you’re delivering this feedback now.
  • Trust—Think about what you can say or do to convey that you have this person’s best interests at heart.
To be most receptive to feedback, ask yourself:
  • Intentions—Have I assumed others good intent in the past? If not, what role do I play in that?
  • Context—Am I open to receiving feedback about an event without turning it into an overall judgment about my value or character?
  • Trust—Do I trust that others have my best interests at heart? If not, what role do I play?
Set the context and make your intentions clear.
  • “I want to help you reach your goal.”
  • “I want to better understand why...”
  • “I want us to be on the same page.”
  • “I’m telling you this now because I think it will help you in your career.”
Then use SBI to deliver the feedback.
Ask yourself:
  • “Is this feedback clear to me?”
  • “Do I understand where it’s coming from?”
  • “Do I understand why it’s important?”
  • “Do I understand the impact?”
If necessary, ask the giver to provide more specifics on the:
  • details of the feedback
  • context of why this important now
  • impact
Come to a mutual understanding.
  • Clarify that the receiver understands feedback.
  • Try to come to a mutual agreement on your observations.
  • Offer support.
  • Discuss next steps.
Think through these questions.
  • “Why might it be hard for me to receive this feedback?”
  • “What can I learn from this feedback that will help me?”
  • “What else do I need to know to help me take action?”
  • “What support do I need or can I ask for?”

Feedback That’s Grounded in Continuous Improvement and Focused on Belief that People Can Get Better

Continuous Improvement

Another way to demonstrate good intent is by showing a genuine belief that people can continuously improve, learn new skills, and get better at their jobs in the long run. Let’s look at an example.

Julia’s First Pitch

Let’s say Julia has just delivered a sales pitch to a client, but she led with selling all the product features without first asking questions and getting to know the client’s needs. After her manager Roxanne provided her feedback, Julia did indeed lead with asking questions during her next pitch, but she didn’t ask all the right questions.

Julia has just delivered a sales pitch by leading with the products instead of asking questions and learning client needs.

Julia’s Next Pitch

The next time she pitched to a client, Julia asked great questions, but she didn’t quite demonstrate the best listening skills. After Roxanne provided her feedback on her listening, Julia was able to pull it all together for her next pitch. She asked the right questions, demonstrated great listening, and positioned the product to best meet the client’s needs.

Demonstrating Continuous Improvement

With each sales pitch, Julia responded to the feedback and demonstrated continuous improvement. Sure, she didn’t get everything quite right after the first time she received feedback, but she made adjustments and improvements each time out that helped her get better with each client engagement.

How Roxanne Helped Julia

How did Roxanne help Julia continuously improve? Part of it came from Roxanne’s understanding that people don’t necessarily go "zero to sixty" and pull it all together when they receive feedback.

Instead of just focusing on what Julia did wrong, Roxanne validated the small improvements Julia made each time she pitched to a client. First, Roxanne validated Julia’s efforts by recognizing her improvement in asking questions at the meetings. Then, she validated Julia’s improvement in asking better questions. Finally, Roxanne acknowledged Julia’s improvement in listening skills.

Roxanne’s positive focus on Julia’s effort and continuous improvement helped keep Julia committed toward improving her own performance. It also led to Julia trusting her more and believing that Roxanne did indeed have her best interests at heart.

Way to listen and ask thoughtful questions. Keep it up, you're getting there.

Growth Mindset

Why is it that some managers like Roxanne can be successful getting their people to learn and grow, while other managers struggle to improve their directs’ performances?

Part of it comes from something called the growth mindset. First coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is centered on the belief that people can get better through dedication, hard work, and effort. Talent and smarts alone are not enough. Everyone has the capacity to get better if they make the commitment to learning and growing.

Some people, however, have more of a fixed mindset. They believe that intelligence and talent are fixed traits, and despite how hard people try, they’re only as good as their raw intelligence and talent allows.

Which mindset did Roxanne and Julia have? A growth mindset, of course! Think about what the scenario above might have looked like had either of them had a fixed mindset. Roxanne might have focused only on what Julia did wrong and might not have believed that her feedback would help Julia improve. Julia might have gotten frustrated early on thinking “no matter what I do, I can’t get this right. I just don’t have what it takes!"

Both Roxanne and Julia bought into the idea that persistence, resilience, hard work, and dedication can help you solve problems, take on more, and learn and grow. In fact, the science behind the growth mindset shows that when people put in the effort to do things they didn’t believe were possible, their brains actually physically change in ways that make them smarter! (Mind Your Errors: Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments. Jason S. Moser, Hans S. Schroder, Carrie Heeter, Tim P. Moran and Yu-Hao Lee Psychological Science 2011 22: 1484)

Growth mindset jogger running through image of a brainKeep these suggestions in mind when providing feedback grounded in continuous improvement and a growth mindset.

Do This
Not This
Validate effort and small improvements
Focus on what went wrong or expect immediate and complete improvement
Maintain the mindset that people can learn and get better with practice
Assume people’s abilities are fixed no matter how hard you try to help them improve
Position feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow
Position feedback as another example of an inability to get it right
Say things like:
  • “I saw you improve in the following way...”
  • “Your effort showed when you...”
  • “I liked the strategy you chose...”
  • “You demonstrated great resilience when you...”
  • “You’ll get there.”
Don’t say things like:
  • “You’re still not getting this.”
  • “I’m not sure you’re capable of...”
  • “Don’t worry, with your talent and brains, you’ll do better next time.”

Want to learn more about the growth mindset?

Check out these popular resources:

Feedback That Comes from a Place of Intellectual Curiosity

Curious man walking through a park gets an idea“A place of intellectual curiosity? Tell me more!”

Exactly. Quite simply, intellectual curiosity is about trying to observe, listen, and learn more. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, as Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame stated so profoundly, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Trouble is, less than 22% of workers describe themselves as curious. It’s not so much that today’s employees are inherently not curious. It’s more about what’s happening in the workplace that stifles curiosity and innovation. According to Todd Kashdan, a noted researcher on curiosity in the workplace, companies are making the following mistakes.

  • Discouraging employees from asking questions about why or how
  • Punishing employees for taking risks
  • Rewarding managers for command and control, know-it-all behavior
  • Devaluing the inclusion of diverse perspectives
  • Valuing speed of getting things done versus investing time in exploration and inquiry

To combat these mistakes, researchers like Liz Wiseman are bringing to light the power that intellectual curiosity can have on engagement and productivity. In her book Multipliers, Wiseman outlines how to multiply the intelligence, energy, and capability of others by demonstrating the value in:

  • Asking questions instead of giving answers
  • Encouraging debate
  • Looking for opportunities to leverage the smarts and capabilities of those around you

At Salesforce, we introduce the Multipliers mindset within our leadership development programs and encourage our managers to model these behaviors with their teams and colleagues.

What does all this mean in terms of feedback? It means, when it comes to feedback, ask questions to gain clarity on what you’ve observed (as the giver) or what you’ve just heard (as the receiver). Be open-minded and present in the moment of giving and receiving feedback. Then reflect and start asking great questions.

As a giver of feedback, ask...
As a receiver of feedback, ask...
  • Help me to understand what was going on for you.
  • How do you think you did?
  • What do you think might happen if you...
  • What’s one thing you might change?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • What did you learn?
  • It’s interesting that you say that, can you tell me more?
  • Can you share an example of a time you noticed this?
  • In that situation, what do you think I could have done differently?
  • In the future, what are some things you would like to see?

Now, we’re not suggesting that you take this table into your next one-on-one and rotely ask these questions. Be sincerely curious about what others are thinking and how they are making decisions. And when on the receiving end of feedback, go deep on asking questions to better understand where the feedback is coming from and what you can do to learn from it.

To take it to the next level, role model the behavior. When someone takes the time to provide feedback about your performance, don’t get all defensive, shut down, or roll your eyes. Ask questions, answer questions, and for goodness sake, thank them for their gift of feedback! Role model how curiosity can spur growth and advance your career.

Feedback as a gift you can give Let's sum it up

So you’ve learned how your intention, and the receiver’s intention, are critical when sharing feedback, and how a growth mindset can help you both to believe anything is possible and improve performance. But for a feedback culture to truly thrive, feedback has to be given in all directions—up, down, and lateral—and it has to be given while keeping your biases in check. We’ll dive into that in the next unit.


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