The Most Common Traps when Giving & Receiving Feedback

giving emotionally intelligent feedback

Brace for it. It’s coming. Feedback is suddenly being hurled in your direction. What do you do? Your immediate reaction is to put that guard up and get ready to retaliate. However, escalating the emotions and tensions of a difficult conversation can often backfire. So, how do we give and receive feedback in a productive and positive way?

One of the hardest components of any interpersonal relationship is to give or receive uncomfortable or negative feedback. This is true across all of our relationships, but it can be particularly challenging to navigate at work. Think about it: so much is riding on the feedback in a work setting, so the stakes are higher. In order to give feedback and receive feedback in a productive way , there are some very common traps to avoid:

Traps when Receiving Feedback:

Trap #1: Not Fully Listening 

When you are suddenly in a confrontation that you deem threatening, your adrenaline spikes and you enter into a “fight or flight” mentality. Therefore, you have to outsmart human nature and consciously tell yourself to pause and listen. This is the first step in emotional intelligence (EQ). Take a deep breath, sit back in your chair and take it all in. It might hurt. It might be uncomfortable. It might be triggering. But the person across from you had enough courage to confront you with this feedback and if you care at all about the relationship, it’s worth listening.

Try this instead: “Wow. This is a lot to absorb. Let me sit down and make sure I really hear what you are trying to say.”

Trap #2: Getting Stuck in Your Own Perceptions

We often build a perception of ourselves that allows us to interact in the world under a set of guiding norms and principles. When that gets shattered or even slightly impacted, it can be incredibly disorienting. Your self-talk might sound like this: “Wait—I thought people viewed me one way and suddenly this person is telling me that’s not the case?!?” But just for a moment, consider the possibility that they are right. Could it be that this is an area of opportunity for you? Just by acknowledging this other perspective, it can help you with your self-management moving forward.

Try this instead: “I never saw it that way. Now that I see it from your perspective, this is something that I can try to manage next time.”

Trap #3: Assuming Negative Intent

Chances are, the person across from you is not the enemy. If it is in a work setting, you probably have very similar goals and aspirations. Hopefully, your company is aligned and you also have a common mission. Rather than focus on all of the differences of opinions and perspectives, assume that this person has your best interests and the overall company’s best interests at hand. If instead you assume that they are out to get you or have some kind of hidden agenda, you might be building divisive barriers to the dynamic that don’t need to be there.

Try this instead: “While it sounds like you are criticizing my work, I know that you ultimately have our team’s best intentions in mind. How can we work better together moving forward to accomplish our mutual goals?”

Traps on Giving Feedback:

Trap #1: Jumping Right into the Negative

Call me an eternal optimist, but I truly think there is usually some strength that you can highlight before delving into any negative feedback. But if you come out of the gates swinging, their initial reaction is going to be to fire back.
When you start off with the positive, you will lower their defenses and allow them to better absorb the information. This type of feedback will hopefully increase their own self-awareness and allow them to see a perspective that might be a blind-spot.

Try this instead: “First, I want to thank you for always bringing energy and engagement to our meetings. It really helps set the tone and give us a launching point for our discussions. However, I have noticed that you can unintentionally dominate the conversations and not give others a chance to contribute.”

Trap #2: Not Owning your Contribution

If someone is not thriving with a particular role or project, it could be due to many factors. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on someone else’s short-comings, but the fact is: it could be a misalignment in the role itself, a misunderstanding about expectations or simply a miscommunication in responsibilities. Before you launch into the other person’s contribution to the problem, take a moment to address your potential role in the situation. By taking ownership of your contributing factors, it opens the door for dialog and helps the other person not feel defensive.

Try this instead: “I recognize that I didn’t give you much time to complete the project and I take responsibility for that. Do you think that played a part in you not meeting the deadline?”

Trap #3: Not Asking for their Feedback 

The hardest part of feedback is often coming to the table to confront the issue. Once you are there (either in person or virtual), it is a good time to get everything on the table. After you are done giving your feedback, ask the other person if they have any feedback for you.

Try this instead: “I know that this feedback is tough to hear, but I wanted to make sure I communicated it with you so that you could improve and grow. While we are discussing ways to improve, is there any feedback that you have for me so that I can work better with you?”

At the end of the day, difficult conversations around feedback are often dreaded by both parties. However, confrontation can actually be very productive and ultimately lead to stronger relationships and productivity. Try to lean into the discomfort and look at these conversations as a necessary catalyst to progress for the relationships that matter the most.

These strategies were based off of the emotional intelligence training programs at TalentSmartEQ. To learn about corporate training programs on emotionally intelligent strategies to help with difficult conversations and giving and receiving feedback, please contact us.

By: Taryn McKenzie, EVP of Client Solutions for TalentSmart EQ. Taryn is a guest contributor for our blog and has been leading teams for over 20 years in the executive training space. For more information, please check out additional resources at:

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