The Key to Effective Feedback



You can say almost anything to someone if they feel safe. Likewise, you can hear almost anything, if you feel safe.”

“Now let me be clear — I’m not suggesting negative feedback will make you feel giddy — but I am suggesting that if you feel psychologically safe you’ll be able to hear it, absorb it, reflect upon it.”*

Most of us hate negative feedback, even when we know it will make us better at our jobs or in our personal lives.

Part of the reason couples therapy can work in troubled marriages (and how many aren’t?) is that both parties generally feel safe in the therapist’s office.

That doesn’t mean hearing your failings makes you happy.

You have to start with the intent of the person giving feedback. If you believe their intent is to hurt you, then it’s not going to be effective.

So, when you’re critiquing your air staff this week try the following:

  • Acknowledge that you can’t make them feel safe, but you hope they will learn to feel safe in these sessions.
  • Make certain your intention is right. You want to help them be better, which is informational, not browbeat them for their failure, which is designed, even if unconsciously, to be punishing.
  • State your intention so it’s crystal clear.
  • Ask permission to be fully honest. It doesn’t matter that they work for you. What matters is their sense of safety within the relationship and their trust that you want what is best for them.
  • Offer feedback in the manner in which you would like to receive it.
  • Practice by soliciting feedback from your superior, understanding that there are times where nothing you do can make it feel safe and better so it will be the same for your air staff.

I’ve often struggled with finding ways to be totally honest without being hurtful so I’m practicing this all the time too.

It starts with trust, with that safety zone, and understanding that will make giving — and receiving — feedback so much more productive.


*From Joseph Grenny in the Harvard Business Review (subscription required)