Giving Critical Feedback 4


What do you do when you have to give critical feedback to someone, especially to people you know?

I have found myself noticing some important things that weren’t done well or properly on a couple of occasions recently.  I have decided not to put the feedback and suggestions for change in an email because words on paper can have a harsher impact than one means, plus they can be forwarded out into the universe to who knows where, and  they can be edited.  (Cyber bullets can be fired dramatically fast and sourced from raw materials so I’d like not to give any unintended ammunition.)

I have gone over a checklist I use in communication workshops, paying particular attention to the advice to “think of whose needs the feedback will meet.”  I’ve done a quick analysis to make sure that I do not merely need to vent as opposed to giving important feedback.


(iStock illustration)

I know how to deliver feedback in a courteous, thoughtful, and quiet matter.  Still, I’ve learned that sometimes it is difficult for people to hear feedback from me.  I see it when they roll their eyes or purse their lips and get annoyed:

“There goes Candelaria again, giving feedback,” I can hear them thinking.

People will get defensive, or feel like you’re saying you could do whatever better than them, or treat you like you’re a know-it-all.  (For the record, I know a lot but I certainly don’t know it all.  I am reminded each and every day of how little I know and how much more I need to know).  People do not like you to fill in their blanks.

Still, because I’m always striving to be my best self and, therefore, appreciate getting feedback especially if it’s given privately and not when I’m smack in the middle of an event or something (unless a safety issue is involved, then, by all means, interrupt me, pull me to the side and tell me what I need to know).

I’m in a dilemma because the feedback is for organizations that I interact with a lot, one as a board member.   One bit of feedback pertains to a potential safety issue, while the other is a question of professional standards.

For now, I’ve decided to swallow hard and hold-off giving the feedback to the organizations and people and just write it out here for one of the wise readers of this blog to give me advice.

I’d appreciate your feedback, please.  Thank you.


About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.


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4 thoughts on “Giving Critical Feedback

  • Money Queen

    At Toastmasters we learn that criticism should be given in a sandwich. The bread is the good points. The meat is what can be improved. You start by giving a positive comment about the person’s performance, followed by points to improve, and ending with another positive comment. By thinking about a person’s positive points, it softens how you deliver the negative. Ending on an up note is good for both of you.

  • Jim

    Giving feedback can be tricky, especially if the person or people for whom it is intended are not receptive. You can rarely do anything about their receptivity in a single exchange, so the most important thing to do when delivering feedback is to remove as much of yourself and as much of value-judgment that you can. Be neutral, or even less, self-deprecating maybe, journalistic perhaps, innocent. You might be able to ask innocent questions like Peter Falk used to do in his role as Colombo, the shambling detective who wasn’t taken seriously until the answers were all too obvious. Whatever you do, I think it’s important that you realize that an unreceptive person will rarely be reflective about any information they get that is charged in anyway. Unreceptive people are often defensive. Frequently, the only way they can receive is by believing that they have realized it themselves. You must be able to hand over everything, especially the credit. Tough business for the ego, but rewarding if the end result is more important than the personalities and especially if the status quo is unbearable, intolerable, or dangerous.

  • Wendy

    Appreciated you comments – tricky stuff
    this getting older and actually knowing helpful info, but equally knowing how much we don’t know. Agree emails are a very tricky place to give much feedback
    since tone isn’t immediately evident. Nice to know electronic communication can not replace the personal everywhere.
    Seems to me one of our jobs as elders in community and family is to listen, observe, and then be brave enough to offer what thoughts we have. Wisdom is
    important to share, even if individuals do roll their eyes occasionally. Sometimes folks aren’t ready to hear feedback at the moment, but often appreciate it in retrospect. I’ve certainly always valued
    every piece I’ve heard from you!