Top 8 Lessons in Giving Feedback from AMA with Anna Carroll, author, feedback coach, and speaker

As author, feedback coach, and speaker, Anna shared her expertise and lessons in giving feedback in our leadership community, The Watercooler.

Anna Carroll, author, feedback coach, and speaker on lessons in giving feedback.

Every month, we invite one of the 1,000+ managers who are a part of our leadership community in Know Your Team, The Watercooler, from all over the world to participate in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session. It’s an opportunity for managers, executives, and business owners to gain in-depth insights into management and leadership lessons. This month, we were curious regarding lessons in giving feedback – something we highly focus on here ourselves at Know Your Team.

In January, we had an AMA with Tim Burgess, co-founder of Shield GEO, a global employment organization that helps companies who want to hire someone in a country where they are unable to employ them directly.

Other past guests have included, Tim Burgess, co-founder of Shield GEO, Sara Sutton, CEO, and Founder of FlexJobs, Natalie Gould, CEO of Balsamiq, and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), CTO at Basecamp.

Without further ado, I would like to tell you about our February AMA guest, Anna Carroll of everydayfeedback.com. Anna is an author, feedback coach, and speaker. She helps leaders and professionals speed up their cycles of feedback, improvement, and results, including training for how to give and receive helpful transparent feedback. An essential quality of her “everyday feedback” approach is lowering stress and building great relationships along the way.

Anna wrote The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success and The Everyday Feedback Workbook: How to Use the Everyday Feedback Method with Your Team. 

Anna is passionate about researching future workplace trends and exploring the brain science and psychological factors that are key to making great feedback happen.

I learned so much following Anna’s AMA. Here are the top 8 lessons in giving feedback that I learned from her:


Question #1: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“What could be the best ways/techniques to provide feedback in remote teams?

Working remotely is usually tricky, and misunderstanding might take place. I would highly appreciate it if you could provide some tips.”

Anna’s Answer:

This is a great question and topic! I just covered working with remote team members in my latest blog post. Here are some tips and strategies you want to keep in mind while working with someone you don’t meet with face-to-face.

  • Always get to know remote team members on a personal basis. Spend extra time here and there to visit with each one about their progress, their opinions, personal interests, etc. Regularly cultivate your relationship with them and show you care.
  • Always go over the goal(s) you are both committed to and revisit their role before giving feedback.
  • Share the feedback as:
    • 1) a personal observation,
    • 2) the impact you see on the work goals, and
    • 3) suggested changes. As in: “I notice you’re focusing time on new customers but not existing customers. We heard from two customers about their complaints and a few missed opportunities for repeat orders. Please make the rounds to contact your existing customers.
  • Ask them to share their plan for how they can do what you’re asking and spend a little time discussing any needed clarification. Thank them for the helpful discussions and your positive expectations for better goal achievement with these plans implemented.
  • Ask them to send you an email to summarize the plans you discussed. Respond and clarify.

Question #2: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“For someone who is new to management and giving feedback, what is the first skill or technique would you recommend they focus on to make sure their conversations are productive and helpful?”

Anna’s Answer:

Refer to your shared goals with people repeatedly. Be able to state them clearly and refer to them every time you give feedback. Being clear on shared goals prevents a lot of misunderstandings.

Question #3: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“An important quality of your “everyday feedback” approach is lowering stress. Why is this an important component of your approach and what are your favorite ways to alleviate stress?”

Anna’s Answer:

Everyday feedback naturally reduces stress because when we’re honest with people, they know what we’re thinking and trust us more. In turn, they will share their views with us more readily and there’s no pent-up hidden agenda between us. This makes everyone’s world more predictable and we’re able to relax more easily. So everyday feedback itself prevents and reduces stress.

Question #4: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“I’m growing a team of software developers and we recognize feedback as one of our values.

I’ve found myself repeating feedback several times.

  • Is that common/expected?
  • Do you tackle this topic in your book/website?”

Anna’s Answer:

Great inquiry re: repeating feedback. Unlike you, most leaders dread giving feedback so much that they want to forget it’s still needed (even though it’s usually overdue) and try to get onto a topic they find pleasant. So it’s not common because most leaders don’t bother to worry about feedback that was obviously not heard or not “gotten” by the receiver. You are clearly a true feedback devotee. I love it!

I tackle it in my book as we talk about opening up a continuous series of conversations with people on our team so that, in each conversation, we can address their progress on past feedback as well as new topics.

What is probably most helpful is for you or any leader giving feedback to set up a follow-up conversation in which you:

  • Note and comment on ANY (though it may be small) positive steps the person has taken or tried to take since you gave the feedback the first time & acknowledge any progress or efforts before making current observations.
  • Refer back to your shared goals with this person, as the receiver may not even be targeting the same things that matter to you. If that is the case, expand the discussion with them about these goals and why they’re important. For example, if they are into speed alone and don’t value documentation of what they are doing and trying, they won’t make progress on what you need them to do
  • Then share your observations of their behavior/work and the negative impacts you see
  • Try to diagnose where they are missing the message and ask for their views on what they see themselves doing to address these situations in the future. Open up a dialogue about how they can shift to what you are needing.
  • If progress is slow, you will need to break it into mini-steps and either sit down with them on each sub-step or assign them a partner/expert on the areas they need to learn.

Question #5: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“I think we struggle most with giving critical feedback.

We currently have no managers (though we have team leads) which has made it feel awkward for some people to give difficult feedback to one another – it isn’t always clear if it is our “place” to do so.

We’ve been encouraging people to be brave to have these difficult discussions with one another, and are beginning to feel the benefit.

I think though, we may soon be adding more formal coaches/mentors (or possibly managers) to our structure. My concern is that people could lean on this too much and rely on the coach to have uncomfortable conversations. I would hate for these new coaches to end up being a tool people use to address issues they don’t want to deal with themselves.

What advice do you have to encourage peer-to-peer feedback, of course, positive feedback, but also for those more uncomfortable conversations?”

Anna’s Answer:

Thanks for chiming in on a challenging structure your company shares with several I’ve worked with over the last 10 years—manager-less organizations or self-managing teams. They add more complications than benefits, in my not-so-humble opinion.

We’ve been encouraging people to be brave to have these difficult discussions with one another, and are beginning to feel the benefit.

Congrats on that! You and your colleagues clearly see benefit from feedback and encouraging them to have courage is great!

I think though, we may soon be adding more formal coaches/mentors (or possibly managers) to our structure. My concern is that people could lean on this too much and rely on the coach to have uncomfortable conversations. I would hate for these new coaches to end up being a tool people use to address issues they don’t want to deal with themselves.

I share your exact concerns and have seen these concerns play out many times. The extreme is a majority-male professional cohort in which they bring in all-female HR-type coaches who are helpful and empathetic. The power resides in the professional group who are the ones avoiding giving the feedback. Leaders in such organizations (who are often technical experts who are extreme introverts and who find feedback painful to give) even preach how feedback is best given from a 3rd party coach and/or anonymously. I have even seen structures set up for the coaches to interview managers and others who give input in secret—away from the feedback receiver. Then the coach delivers the feedback while the receiver is trying to understand what Is really meant by the hidden input giver.

This is lunacy in my view, as it distorts the feedback information and teaches everyone that honest feedback is a horrid and hurtful process that people can’t share safely. I think that such an attempt at suppressing transparency actually sets the organization back and deprives the receiver of crucial information. What is truly needed is for everyone to learn how to give frequent, open feedback and benefit from it. Do it, practice it, follow up with it frequently, and knock down barriers and excuses for dishonesty. My workbook, The Everyday Feedback Workbook, available on Amazon has many tools and examples for how to create a positive climate for feedback.

What advice do you have to encourage peer-to-peer feedback, of course, positive feedback, but also for those more uncomfortable conversations?

For peer-to-peer feedback, it is crucial to review your shared stake in better performance from all involved. How is your work interrelated and what benefits can you both realize about helping one another get better? As a leader or influencer/role model, talk every day and every way about the value of feedback. Ask for it yourself, encourage discussions in meetings about how the group can improve on shared projects, and thank everyone when they give you or the whole group feedback.

Start doing it yourself by having simple feedback conversations with others about topics that will most improve performance and impact on the business goals. The faster you start having “small” but helpful conversations, the faster everyone will see the value and less afraid of sharing feedback with others. The secret is to have people who really believe in the helpfulness of the feedback start implementing it before demanding that leaders who dread giving feedback simply comply with an order. A lot more details are contained in my book, The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback To Speed Up Your Team’s Success.

Question #6: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“To expand on the remote question, how do you tailor feedback when you can’t give it in the moment or face to face? i.e. how do you deliver feedback face to face vs video call vs email vs chat.

I struggle to pick which mode to use and also to move across those forms to give some feedback in the moment but carry the discussion into a better medium. e.g. give quick feedback via chat but dig deeper in a video call 1:1?”

Anna’s Answer:

Thanks for breaking it down into three different communication media/tools: 

  • Face-to-face
  • Video call
  • Chat

The first two feedback settings are very similar, except the signals in the video calls aren’t quite as simultaneous as with face to face. It takes slightly more time for the two people to get comfortable and feel in sync with the other person’s facial and voice signals. Usually, the awkwardness and “testing the waters” dissipates quickly, especially when the feedback giver starts with a personal exchange or refers to something enjoyable or funny that enters their emotional brain in a positive way and makes dissolves some of their trepidations.

It can be a reference to the weather, sports team, or a company event in the receiver’s home town to show you acknowledge their experience. You may also share a recent amusing anecdote that is relevant to the other person. Avoid being “ha-ha” funny or trying to distract from the topic at hand. Being your natural and authentic self, as in all good communication, is what’s vital.

As in all everyday feedback settings, jump in quickly and naturally, as in “I wanted to identify some ways we can focus more on the bigger potential customers. Here’s what I noticed this week about your allocation of time & priorities. I recommend starting with these client leads and goals before handling all the other time-eating demands. How can you implement this in your typical workday?”

In all of these media formats, putting the feedback in context is essential. For one thing, you are showing them some of their challenges while articulating the rationale for why it’s important that they make the change.

With chat, make sure you can narrow down the feedback topic into something very specific. Refer to the exact time you observed something—their presentation this morning, the conference call we were on yesterday, a financial report you just received. Do not ever go into a general performance discussion on a chat, such as “I wanted to review your past quarter as I observe it and share some feedback for the next quarter going forward.” If you must lump together a significant time period (such as 3 months), you must schedule plenty of time for a personal call or video, and vow to yourself you will never hold back that long again.

Question #7: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“How can we encourage people who don’t give much feedback to participate more? As a manager, I think my healthiest relationships are the ones where I receive feedback as well as give it. But not everyone will give me feedback.”

Anna’s Answer:

Good point: Some folks are super reluctant to give feedback to a boss. They may be super shy and “shut-down” as part of their personality, they may have had a bad experience in the past, or they may be simply slow to trust the environment and culture in your team and company.

You can “prime the pump” in various ways:

Tell the whole group you will be asking each for some feedback as you really want to improve your impact. You may then refer to a comment one of your less-shy people made, thank them publicly, and share how helpful it’s been to focus on improving that area. You can even refer to more than one person on your team: “Several of you have pointed out how overly-assertive I am when we’re in sales calls with new customers. I tend to dominate the meeting and I am now trying to get back to my mission, which is to help you become independent sales professionals. To change, I am now sitting back and taking notes for the first 10 minutes of the meeting and when and if I jump in, doing it in a collaborative and empowering manner to keep you in the driver’s seat.” Thanks to all who said that.

In these ways, I am learning how to lead better. You are helping me do things in a more effective way for you guys. So please give me feedback when I ask you.

Then never betray their trust or argue defensively when they seem off-base in their feedback. Try to always find a way to use their feedback and thank them for their helpful comments.

Question #8: Lessons in Giving Feedback

“We are a software house with 100 people. We’ve been around since 2002, and as the company grew we started struggling with peer feedback. It seems that it is really difficult for us to give negative feedback to each other and so sometimes feedback grows into a castle of stress and negative feelings until something explodes.

During the last months, we’ve been writing our guiding principles, and we hope that this clear and common understanding of our culture will help us to give more sustained feedback.

We’ve been thinking if we should implement a tool to invite people to give formal feedback to each other every 3 or 4 months. What do you think about those processes? Is it good to also have formal moments of feedback, or should we only invest in everyday feedback?”

Anna’s Answer:

Congrats: You seem to value feedback for your group enough to be concerned when there are barriers. Remind your team members that feedback is simply information they can use to improve future outcomes. When they don’t give and receive accurate information, improvement is impossible. When it derails into emotional blow-ups it stops being information they can use to improve.

I’m afraid I have a negative view of adopting phone or online feedback apps that make it easy to give feedback anonymously or remotely. Because giving feedback has been a scary experience in the past for many people, and in particular, for shy or reluctant communicators, they are trying to hide behind anonymity and avoid day-to-day transparent and helpful communication. The keyword here is helpful. Keep all feedback helpful without being dishonest. If it’s given frequently, people aren’t shocked and feeling hurt.

Ask people to focus on one topic at a time for change. When you are about to give someone feedback, what one area would help you two get your shared goal accomplished better? Be helpful in having a suggestion you think they can manage before dumping a laundry list of criticisms on them. A good reference is my Everyday Feedback Workbook, which has readers answering questions and using tools that guide you to honest, direct, and helpful feedback.


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Written by Mandy Moore

Operations Manager at Know Your Team. My goal is to love what I do every single day. Follow me on Twitter at @therubyrep.

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