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[Professional Development]

7 Ways to Make Feedback Positive not Personal

Discover 7 Ways to Make Feedback Positive not Personal 

It can be hard to take negative comments on the chin. Though not always considered the most vital of staff skills, resilience and perspective is key to keeping cool when the pressure’s on and remaining enthusiastic on the job. 

A recent study by Aon has shown that in the UK, those that show poor resilience are 43% more likely to leave their employer. Worse, the entire time they’re with you, they display a whopping 59% lower rate of engagement. *1

With this in mind, we’ve put together some tips on how to deliver feedback positively, helping you create a focused and positive culture that doesn't need your team to up their resilience. The best part? It’s actually quite easy.

The Role of Feedback

When it comes to resilience in the workplace, feedback is the perfect place to start. 

An environment where feedback sessions are productive and fruitful can be the catalyst for a successful project and happy employees. Feedback meetings are also an essential tool in learning more about your staff; their responses, aspirations, strengths and areas that need work. However, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that one third of feedback actually decreases performance!*2

What’s more, another study conducted by Harvard Business Review shows that employees who scored their managers poorly for constructive feedback were the same ones in the bottom division for satisfaction, commitment and likelihood to stay. *3

Basically, badly executed feedback sessions result in low engagement, stressed employees and have a negative impact on business success. 


angry office colleague giving feedback

not surprisingly, this isn't positive feedback...


How to Optimise Your Feedback

So, why do we struggle with criticism? The short answer is: human nature. We’re happy to accept that feedback is necessary, but we find it almost impossible to keep emotion out of it, particularly when it's not done well. 

There are perfectly valid reasons to take things personally, of course. It's in our nature to deploy our defences. It’s part of our culture to be positive, kind and polite. This makes criticism difficult to navigate, whether delivered or received. 

With that in mind, here are a few tips to move from giving 'criticism' to sharing feedback  that stays impactful and constructive.

1. Accentuate the positive - it's not just about that one piece of feedback

Maybe take a few moments before diving in to clarify the purpose of the feedback, and the positives of their performance. Remind them that you genuinely want them to grow and succeed. That you believe in their abilities. Remember that your staff want to take feedback well (because most of us want to do well) and this is just an opportunity to make that process easier.

2. There is no failure, only feedback

Reassure the person after feedback has been delivered. You don’t want to leave someone thinking; “What just happened?!”

Remind the receiver that feedback is designed to help them succeed and to create the opportunity for positive change, targeted growth and personal empowerment. 

Feedback, whether good or bad, gives us information that fuels growth.

elon musk feedback quote


Feedback sessions always either present an opportunity to expand our skills or affirm that we’re on the right track. Both offer information that is vital to our future growth and our knowledge of ourselves.


3. Deliver Feedback with the Other Human in Mind

As humans, it’s in our nature to be emotional.

We grasp concepts more easily (and remember them) when they make us feel something. That’s because our emotions are on autopilot: they come about instinctively. How often have you jumped to a conclusion, or flown off the handle, or instantly smiled at a random event in your life? 

We don’t have to think about our emotions, we just feel them.

When we’re young, we receive a lot of feedback, and we form emotional responses to being validated or reprimanded. We develop our own personal set of strengths and sensitivities: a catalogue of past experiences stored by our subconscious mind that we use to respond to present situations.

Put simply, it's in our nature to deploy our defences. 


defensive person responding to feedback

Stand down, Greg! The graphics were good!

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of feedback, it’s important to stay mindful of the other person's experience. Remember throughout that there are subconscious mechanisms at play that are relating everything you have to say back to the receiver's emotions. 

Their defences, insecurities and deep-rooted experiences are waiting to bubble to the surface; so make sure they understand that the purpose of the meeting is growth and opportunity, not discipline or criticism.

Luckily for you, there are SO many more resources on Life Ladder that get down into the details. We look at the process of feedback and the importance of resilience, and have deliberately designed our resources to help you give and receive feedback that gets the best results.

4. Good Feedback Needs Time

When it comes to feedback highlighting something that needs to be improved, typically no one likes to linger. 

More often than not, many of us want to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible, this can make honest communication a little harder.

Take a moment before you start to breathe, and commit to taking your time. That doesn’t mean dragging it out for too long, but making sure you explain everything fully and without rushing. Listen fully. Let them know that you’re making real space for growth. When you give them your time, they’ll feel their worth in your eyes.

5. Watch Your Non-verbal Feedback

The very mention of non-verbal communication usually brings about an awareness of the physical self pretty quickly.


REMINDER (1)Did you do it?

Your message may not be positive, but that doesn’t mean your body language and tone of voice can’t be. Despite what you may think, it’s possible to maintain authority AND deliver feedback for performance improvement without leaving someone weeping in the toilets on the phone to their mum. 

You don’t have to come across as harsh. 

Research shows that over 50% of communication is non-verbal, so be mindful of your body language. 

In the world of remote working, this is even trickier, as there is a physical barrier between you. 

Unfold your arms, look them in the eye and open your posture. Not only does an open posture show authority (you’re making yourself bigger) it also shows them (subconsciously) that you’re willing to be vulnerable.

6. Remember Gratitude to Help Feedback Land

Your opinion as a leader really, really matters. Your employees want your validation, and to feel that they’re doing a good job. It’s not easy to share disappointment but you can help by showing gratitude. 

Where necessary, thank them for trying, thank them for being receptive, and thank them for their time. Finding where you can be grateful is a great way to add some positivity and will leave them with something positive to take away.

7. Building a Learning Organisation

Can you imagine how much easier this whole process would be if your staff were meeting you on the same level? If you could approach every feedback session with the knowledge that both sides have open minds, that there’s an eagerness to flourish, reverence for your word and gratitude for the opportunity to grow? What you’re picturing is a learning organisation.


matt khan quote about personal growth


Life Ladder provides e-learning resources for your staff on resilience and professional skills and how to develop them, with ease. Our micro-learning method gives everyone the chance to work on their identity and how they relate to themselves, every week. They’ll cultivate a subconscious ability to self-validate, instead of chasing external affirmation. It’s about building the confidence, self-awareness and proactivity we all need to grow, and take feedback (any feedback) as an opportunity.

“The e-learning professional development journey gives employees a deeper understanding of themselves. They begin to take responsibility from within, and flourish from the inside out. They do it because they feel empowered to achieve positive change, and they know they can have happiness and success.”

 - Life Ladder’s Natalie Rae

Life Ladder 7 step subconscious catalyst systemIt's time to climb

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*1 Aon, 2020 Report: https://www.aon.com/risingresilient/download/

*2 American Psychological Association: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1996-02773-003

*3 Harvard Business Review