Necessary Leadership Skills – Interpersonal Skill 6 - Competency in Giving Feedback

Dr. Donna L. Roberts
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The Feedback Skill is categorized as an interpersonal competency and defined as “communicating information, opinions, observations and conclusions so that they are understood and can be acted upon” (McLagan & Suhadolnik, 1989, p. 38). Specifically, feedback is “information that provides the recipient guidance concerning whether or not he/she is on target relative to some goal to be achieved” (Schein, 1988, p. 99). Feedback can emphasize positives, be descriptive and neutral without any judgment or evaluation, or emphasize negatives.

Direct feedback is the return channel by which a speaker obtains reactions from the receiver which helps the speaker gauge the impact and effect of his/her communication. It is the element that brings the communication process full circle. The effectiveness of feedback is enhanced by implementing three important features - immediacy, honesty and supportiveness. Additionally, feedback should be concrete, specific and relevant and have a constructive rather than purely critical intent.

Some research has shown that feedback improves performance not only by helping learners correct mistakes during the learning process but also by providing reinforcement for learning (Cherrington, 1991). A stable system of regular feedback enhances an organization’s efficiency and productivity as well as strengthening the lines of communication. However, others (Buckingham and Goodall, 2019), argue that the positive effects of feedback are a “fallacy.” They contend that, “For years managers have been encouraged to candidly praise and criticize just about everything workers do. But it turns out that feedback does not help employees thrive. First, research shows that people can’t reliably rate the performance of others: More than 50% of your rating of someone reflects your characteristics, not hers. Second, neuroscience reveals that criticism provokes the brain’s “fight or flight” response and inhibits learning. Last, excellence looks different for each individual, so it can’t be defined in advance and transferred from one person to another. It’s also not the opposite of failure. Managers will never produce great performance by identifying what they think is failure and telling people how to correct it.” Given these findings, they recommend focusing on the successes and strengths of employees. While this is certainly a more positive way to interact, and consistent with the shaping techniques of behavioral psychology, is it always practical in the modern workplace?


Buckingham, M & Goodall, A. (2019). The Feedback Fallacy. Harvard Busines Review, March–April 2019.

McLagan, P. A. & Suhadolnik, D. (1989). Models for HRD practice: The research report. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development.

Schein, E. H. (1988). Process consultation: It’s role in organization development. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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