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Feedback | Dr. Yasemin Yazan

Giving & Receiving Feedback

1. Feedback & its Relevance

Let’s take a closer look at feedback and its relevance: Why is feedback important?

1.1 Blind Spots

We all have blind spots! You can compare it with driving a car. There are some points, that are out of your view. If you don’t know that, one day you will have a crash. If you know about the area, which is out of your view, you will be able to find a solution for this challenge. Means: If you are aware of this blind spot, you can help yourself, either with a shoulder view, with technical tools or devices like an autopilot, a manual help like a traffic mirror or you may ask someone to assist you – a human.

This is similar with our behaviour: We all have blind spots we are not aware of. To understand this, we need to have a look at the 4 stages of learning or how we acquire new skills:

a) Unconscious Incompetence

On the first level, we are in the area of unconscious incompetence. We have a blind spot that we ourselves cannot see.

b) Conscious Incompetence

If we now receive feedback from outside, we reach the level of conscious incompetence. Because we now know that we are not good at something, but we have not yet accepted and solved the challenge.

c) Conscious Competence

If we now decide to work on this aspect with training, then we reach the next level, conscious competence. Because now we use certain things on a regular basis to train what we are not good at. We don’t always succeed and it’s exhausting because we have to concentrate on it in order not to make mistakes. We don’t always succeed yet, but we are getting better and better.

d) Unconscious Competence

If we have practised it often enough, we reach the highest level of learning, the unconscious competence. We have learned to apply the new skill without thinking about it. So, it has become a routine.

If you are making decisions about what you want to learn, you always start at level 2 (conscious incompetence). You know you can’t do something, and you want to learn it.


Without feedback you are not able to recognise level 1 (unconscious incompetence), because you don’t know that you can’t do something or that you can’t do it well. So, if you want to work on those points that are not visible to yourself, you need feedback.

1.2 Different Perceptions

We all have different perceptions. This is because we see, feel, taste, hear and smell things differently. The same situation is therefore experienced and evaluated completely differently.

We almost always perceive completely different things in one and the same situation. These are not exceptions, but the rule.
Keep in mind, that our self-perception and the perception of a situation differ from the perception of others. If we talk about what we see, hear, smell etc., ask questions about the situation and so on, then we will be able to realize and understand also other perceptions.

Feedback enables us to see and understand different perceptions, i.e. to gain access to different perspectives.

1.3 Four Sides of a Message by Schulz von Thun

In everyday life, we send and receive a lot of messages. Each one has according to Schulz von Thun 4 sides:
  • Objective content: the information I give out
  • Self-disclosure: what I give away about myself
  • Relationship: what I think of you & how we stand to each other
  • Appeal: what I want you to do
What we need to know is, that it’s not the Message itself that has the 4 sides. It’s us who send the message with 4 beaks. And it’s also us who receive messages with 4 ears. So, the message itself would be just objective, but it mostly isn’t because we use exactly the same words, but often mean or understand different things without realising it. We always attach different meanings to messages and words. For example, words like loyalty, trust, etc. can mean something completely different to one person than to another.
If we do not ask about the meaning of terms, we do not learn about the different experiences and points of views. We assume that we are talking about the same thing, but most of the time we are not.

In addition, stories told by the other person create inner images that I associate with what has been said, even if the message did not contain certain information. For example, when someone tells us that they have just returned from a walk with their dog, we form an inner image of the environment in which the walk took place and the breed and color of the dog, even though we have never seen the dog and the other person has not provided any detailed information about it.

Our brain creates images based on our previous experiences. While the sender has the feeling “I have said everything” the receiver also has the feeling “I have understood everything”. In reality, we do not speak the same language, although we do speak the same language. Our messages, appeals etc. cannot be transmitted 1 to 1. However, by asking, concretising, summarising etc. we can come closer to understand each other.

Based on Schulz von Thun, messages have 4 sides. We send messages with 4 beaks. We receive messages with 4 ears. We use exactly the same words, but often mean and understand completely different things without realizing it. Feedback strengthens mutual understanding and makes it possible to nip potential conflicts in the bud through clear and transparent communication.

1.4 Construction of Reality

That leads us to the next point, which is the Construction of Reality: We evaluate all information and stimuli in our brain based on previous experiences with emotions.

If we look at a picture, for example, and try to reproduce what we see, it becomes clear on closer inspection that we immediately start to evaluate and interpret. Our brain accesses stored information from previous experiences and completes the images we see. If I see a person smiling, I may assume that the person is happy. In fact, however, I see a smiling person. What comes next is already a further processing of my brain.

All accessible information is therefore brought together and supplemented on the basis of our previous experiences. As we have different previous experiences, our interpretations are also different, even though we are all looking at the same image. The longer we look at the image, the more options we will see.

Depending on our previous experiences, age, culture, gender, and so on, each of us looks through our own glasses. These glasses are like a filter that interprets and evaluates everything individually.

Through these glasses we create our subjective reality and often think that this subjective reality represents an objective truth – but it does not.

If we look at it very closely, even the circumstance that a combination of digits and signs forms a certain result is just a commitment, not a fact. We have agreed that 1+5 adds up to 6. If we were to define it differently, we would get a different result. Based on this, we would evaluate right and wrong differently.

It is even debatable whether there is an objective truth at all, because in addition to the fact that we always construct our own reality, we have agreed on certain things in the spirit of understanding that we now take for granted. In other cultures, however, these can be completely different commitments. Sometimes they are even completely contradictory: while in some cultures it is considered impolite to burp while eating, in other cultures it is considered an insult not to do so. However, objective truth, which is based on factual knowledge, can also be questioned to the extent that factual knowledge can also change as a result of new findings and is not static. This means that what we believe to be true today because it is based on facts can create new truths tomorrow through new valid findings.

So let’s keep this in mind: We evaluate all information and stimuli in our brain based on previous experiences with emotions. It is debatable whether there is any objective truth at all. In any case, we construct our own subjective reality. The more feedback you receive, the better you can compare the content of the feedback. You don’t have to look at every piece of feedback, but if certain aspects are repeated, then it is worth taking a closer look at this aspect. Frequent feedback therefore enables us to recognize and break patterns.

1.5 Résumé & Outlook

Now you may understand, why it’s not just a Feedback – Feedback is a gift. And it is the foundation for a trusting & successful cooperation.

An implemented feedback culture increasingly contributes to clear and transparent communication. Not only in the feedback situation itself, but also in meetings and projects the learned and trained skills will be used, consciously at first, later unconsciously.

A culture of trust will be created after a time, which is important for successful cooperation, also beyond interpersonal relationships and beyond teams.

Because a company consists of many cultures. There is not one single corporate culture, but many sub-cultures. Every team, every department, every business unit has its own culture. In this sense, not only is the company itself a system, but it also consists of many other sub-systems.

So, we are looking at the level of the individual, the sub-systems, and a superordinate whole: The company as a system.

Through self-reflection, responsibility, and lifelong learning, each one of you contributes not only to your own development, but also to the development of your team through interaction within the team, and to the development of the company through interaction with other teams. Thus, each individual bears responsibility for the success or failure of feedback, of communication, of cultural development and consequently also the achievement or non-achievement of common corporate goals. So: each individual bears responsibility and at the same time is also able to change something, and thus contributes significantly to the success of the company.

All these aspects are the reason why feedback is a gift. The prerequisite for this is that feedback is not given spontaneously or impulsively, but prepared and carried out professionally within a sufficient framework.

What exactly the relevant influencing factors are, that make up professional feedback so that it can really unfold as a gift – that is what we focus on in the next step.

2. Giving & Receiving Feedback

Let’s have a look, what frame is needed, how to give and receive Feedback and then dive in into some Examples for DOs and DON’Ts.

2.1 Frame of Feedback

In addition to certain rules on how to properly give and receive feedback, there are some aspects related to the frame that need to be considered in any feedback. These include regularity, timing, setting, attitude, willingness, formulation.
  • Regularity: Feedback needs to take place regularly to ensure that it is not abused to only address problems/conflicts.
  • Timing: Feedback needs to be close to the event (the meeting, the project, the collaboration) so that sender and receiver will be able to remember concrete examples.
  • Setting: Feedback takes always place One-on-One. (Even if you want to share something in the team, e.g. to optimize a process, first have a One-on-One. In that One-on-One you can also talk to the person, what you would like to share in the team to optimise processes or similar. After the One-on-One you can share it together with the person in the team. This way you increase the likelihood that the employee/colleague will support you and not stab you in the back out of anger.)
  • Attitude: The attitude of Feedback is appreciation, which is always associated with respect, goodwill and is expressed in friendliness, interest, attentiveness, and kindness. Furthermore, openness, empathy and authenticity come along with it as well.
  • Willingness: There must be a willingness for feedback because feedback is an offer, not an instruction. Without willingness, no change. A forced feedback conversation is just as effective as no conversation.
  • Formulation: The language of feedback is the factual level. Use I-messages with concrete examples for comprehensibility (no interpretation of the situation or evaluation of the person).
Note: Regardless of whether you are a feedback giver or receiver, you should always pay attention to this framework. As a feedback receiver, you are also entitled to demand this framework for yourself. For example, if someone surprises you with quick feedback between meetings, say thank you nicely and suggest that you make an appointment so that you can mentally and emotionally adjust as well.

2.2 Giving Feedback

There is always a clear structure for giving feedback:

2.2.1 Positive Start

Start always positive. The attitude is appreciation. (Remember: Appreciation is always associated with respect, goodwill and is expressed in friendliness, interest, attentiveness and kindness). So, you should start with aspects you liked. You may use a phrase like: “What I particularly liked, was xyz.”

2.2.2 Main section

In the main part you differ according to

a) Objective Standards (regulations, laws, company requirements)
Of course, feedback is always subjective, but you can use objective standards that you have agreed on beforehand. This concerns regulations, laws or company requirements that have to be complied with, like defined processes, guidelines, company agreements, and so on. Here are some examples for possible formulations:
  • We have to comply with this process in order to fulfil the legal requirements/be in conformity with data protection, etc.
  • We have agreed in the team to be on time for appointments/to put the cups in the dishwasher, etc.
  • Our workflow requires that certain information is obtained for smooth processing, etc.
b) Subjective Reality (perception, effect, desire)
Since feedback reflects a subjective reality of the feedback provider and does not represent an objective truth, it is important that the wording reflects exactly these circumstances. For this to succeed, a 3-step approach is used, consisting of perception, effect, and desire.
ba) Perception

To express that it is your own perception, you should start your sentences with introductory phrases such as:

  • “I noticed that …”
  • “I could observe that …”
bb) Effect

The second step is to tell your counterpart what effect this situation or behaviour has had on you. For example, you can use the following introductory phrases:

  • “For me this means …”
  • “I feel …”
bc) Desire

In the third step, you share your desire for the future. In this way you can present a new option without imposing it on your counterpart as the only right one. Even if the option you have mentioned is not yet your counterpart’s preferred option, the feedback receiver will now start to think about it and will automatically search mentally for other options. For this step, use introductory phrases such as:

  • “I wish …”
  • “I would like to ask you …”

2.2.3 Positive Conclusion (highlights, acknowledgement)

Round off the conversation with a positive conclusion. You can mention highlights and use acknowledgements such as:

  • “In conclusion, I would like to highlight again …”
  • “I’m looking forward to…”

2.3 Receiving Feedback

Many people think that only the feedback provider has rules to follow, but there are also very clear rules for the feedback receiver. These are:
  • Attitude of gratitude: See feedback as a gift, receive it gratefully & see it as an opportunity.
  • Listen actively, ask questions of understanding if necessary. You may use phrases such as:
    • “Can you please give me a concrete situation/example so that I can better understand xyz?” (Level of Perception)
    • “What exactly gave you the impression that xyz?” (Level of Effect)
    • “Do you have a concrete idea how I can do xyz better next time?” (Level of Desire)
  • No defence or justification. Avoid phrases such as::
    • “Yes, but I only did that because …”
    • “That’s what we always do.”
  • Thank the feedback provider for openness and summarise what you have understood in your own words.
    • “Thank you very much for your feedback. I have understood xyz. (I will gladly take abc for myself to think about/work on it).”

2.4 DOs & DON’Ts

Regardless of whether you are a feedback provider or receiver:

Communication always involves at least two parties. So, you also contribute to whether the conversation takes place in an atmosphere of disgust, fear, anger and sadness or joy.

Therefore, as a feedback provider as well as a feedback receiver, you should take the following DOs and DON’Ts for feedback conversations to heart.

2.4.1 DON’Ts

Let’s first look at what we should not do: DON’Ts are you-messages with blame. On your counterpart, they have the effect of an outstretched forefinger. These you-messages can be classified as follows:
  • Evaluation: “The way you See it is wrong.”
  • Instruction: “You should have listened to me.”
  • Command: “You simply have to think more.”
  • Generalization: “You never take on any additional tasks.”
  • Insinuation: “That’s typical for you.”
  • Irony/Sarcasm: “Interesting idea – considering that it comes from you.”
  • Questioning: “Why did you actually pass on this information?”
Note: Avoid terms like “but” because everything you said before will be revised by it.

2.4.2 DOs

DOs are I-messages that clearly signal to your counterpart that this is the perception of the feedback provider. They are benevolent and do not corner your counterpart. Here are some examples of possible phrases:

Descriptions of your own point of view: 

  • “I See it in a different way.” (Instead of: “The way you see it is wrong.”)
  • “I understood that differently.” (Instead of: “You have expressed yourself unclearly.”)

Use concrete examples to illustrate your point:

  • “The situation xyz had the effect of abc on me.” (Instead of: “You did/You were xyz.”)

2.5 Conclusion: Giving & Receiving Feedback

Make sure you have the right framework for feedback. This shows appreciation and creates a good atmosphere even before the conversation starts.

Feedback is subjective. Therefore, consider feedback as an offer and not as an instruction.

Use I-messages and avoid you-messages. Be specific with examples.

Implement living and receiving feedback in your daily work. The more you practice, the faster you will reach the level of unconscious competence. Have the courage to make mistakes. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. If something didn’t go the way you wanted it to, find out what you can do better next time. And then just do it.

3. Best Practices

Let’s take a look at some best practices to give you some ideas to get you started right away:
  • Put blockers in your calendar for giving & receiving feedback. Reach out to colleagues you work with regularly to offer & ask for feedback.
  • Use the next team meeting to decide together what commitments you want to make regarding feedback.
  • Use a feedback journal to document aspects you are working on. Flip back from time to time to see your own progress.
  • Talk to your supervisor & put feedback as a measurable aspect into your annual target agreement.*
  • Create opportunities to practice feedback in role-plays.

*Hinweis: Some companies decide to implement Feedback into the annual target agreement of every Head of a Department, and they skip it to their own team members.

My personal message to you:

What we hear is often only an opinion, not a fact. What we See is offne only a perspective, not the truth. That’s why feedback is a gift, not wisdom. So look at it like the varied & colorful selection of flowers in a shop, deciding for yourself which flower you would like to take with you this time. However, if you are offered the same flower over & over again, then have the courage to take a closer look at it – it will most likely be worth it.


© Image: strichfiguren –



How often should I ask for feedback?

There is no right or wrong. It depends. It may be once a month or once a week. The ratio between giving and receiving feedback should be balanced. Note: Many people take on too much at the beginning and start with e.g. weekly intervals. After three weeks, they realise that it is too much and stop completely. So it’s better to aim for less from the beginning, e.g. once a month at first, and make sure you do it consistently and regularly. You will often achieve more if you take small steps, but then follow them consistently for a longer period of time. After you find that it works well, you can increase the frequency.

How long should a feedback session take?

Usually, the time for feedback is between 30 minutes and one hour, e.g. depending on whether the feedback discussion takes place between team members or between the team leader and an employee. The latter usually takes longer. What you will notice in any case is that the more regularly you have feedback sessions with the same person, the shorter the time needed. Because of the regularity, you have fewer new topics and aspects you want to mention in the session.

My manager does not give me feedback even when I ask. What can or should I do about it?

Try to find out what the reason is. Maybe it is due to time issues. If your leader does not answer this question either, you can also bring it up in a team meeting. Most likely other team members have the same issue. In a team meeting you can address it and look for solutions together. Also explain why feedback is important for you, e.g. I want to develop myself; I want to bring in more benefit to the company. A good communication is most effective. If it doesn’t help, then the last consequence is to address it at the next higher hierarchical level. But please do not go there to complain, but really with the intention to find a solution. Feedback is important and there is no reason why it should not take place.

What is the best practice if you keep on raising the same feedback to a person but he’s not willing to change his behaviour?

I don’t know if you have ever tried to move a horse that doesn’t want to move. You will not succeed. The willingness is prerequisite.If you’re the manager in responsibility and it’s one of your employees, then it’s important to be transparent. The motto here is: change it (if possible), love/accept it (if it is beyond your control) or leave it (as a logical consequence). If the person does not show willingness to change, it is important to point out possible consequences, up to and including dismissal, especially if the employee is harming the company with his or her behaviour.
If you are colleagues on the same level, it is a challenge. The best way is to address it transparently, and if needed, also involve a supervisor to look for solutions together.
Note: Often we try to tell others what they should change, give them tips, etc. Instead, use high-quality questions. Because high-quality questions are incredibly powerful. Use open questions such as: How did you percept yourself? How did you percept the situation? What do you think you can do better next time? These kinds of questions make your counterpart think. This is the best way to initiate change.

Feedback introduces the idea of good and wrong, a judgement coming from someone higher status/position. Isn’t this wrong? Wouldn’t be better to have a culture of promoting mistakes?

A culture of mistakes/failures is certainly helpful because we learn more from our mistakes/failures than from our successes. However, from my point of view, one does not exclude or contradict the other. The idea and attitude of feedback is not to judge. On the contrary, it is about avoiding exactly that. Because what we feedback is our subjective perception. There is often no right or wrong, even if we think that the way we see things is the only right way. In addition, feedback takes place at eye level, at least that should always be the goal. It has nothing to do with hierarchical level or status and should be equally accessible to all, regardless of internal structures.

Are there times when giving feedback is inappropriate?

Absolutely. Here are a few examples: My counterpart does not want feedback from me. My counterpart is currently in a very emotional state. We are in the final phase of a project, where meeting deadlines and achieving goals have priority. The feedback is unplanned/unannounced. Other colleagues are present during the feedback.
3 Myths Debunked – When Science Creates Knowledge! | Dr Yasemin Yazan

When Science Creates Knowledge!

Unfortunately, there is a lot of false knowledge on the market. Be it because, for example, research results are misinterpreted or false causalities are made, or because they are transferred to other contexts that were not even the subject of the study.

We pick 3 myths and show what science already knows:

- Why Maslow's hierarchy of needs is not a reliable basis for motivation

- Why personality tests are questionable as a basis for personnel decisions

- Why a quota is needed as an effective measure against Unconscious Bias

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