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The Y Report

The Gift of Feedback

We naturally get defensive when someone criticizes us. Getting a D on a paper or having a family member knock the way you load the dishwasher stings. But giving and receiving feedback is crucial to our growth—at work, at school, and in our relationships.

While there are best practices for communicating criticism constructively, BYU business adjunct professor Elizabeth A. Dixon (BA ’92, MPA ’96) asserts that “[all] feedback is a gift—no matter how badly it’s wrapped.” Here are Dixon’s top tips on letting feedback help, not hurt.

Professor Lix Dixon holds a gift wrapped present to the camera
Photo by Bradley Slade

What do you do when you get feedback that hurts?

A: Start by taking a breath. The amygdala—the emotional part of your brain—fires immediately when someone offers a difficult critique. Your amygdala doesn’t differentiate between an attack on your life and feedback. If you avoid immediately reacting, you can start processing.

Then zone in on the “what,” not the “who.” Focusing on who gave us the feedback can make us feel emotional and miss the chance to grow. Dig in and find the gift, even if it stings. (But please note that abuse is never feedback.)

How can you create a good environment for giving feedback?

A: First seek a relationship. Get to know your family, roommates, coworkers, and employees as children of God. Know that they have hopes and dreams and fears and doubts.

In day-to-day conversations, focus on what they are doing well. Praise, praise, praise. They’ll want to continue doing those things well. And when you do have a correction, you’ve created a relationship where you never have to sugarcoat anything. They know you care about them and believe that they’re capable. Give 90 percent praise and 10 percent constructive criticism.

What’s the best way to give feedback?

A: Offer it with love. Give the person the benefit of the doubt and remember that your picture of the situation is incomplete. Acknowledge their pressures and constraints. Talk in private.

Some people advocate for the “feedback sandwich”—two compliments with feedback in the middle. But the feedback sandwich usually has so much bread on the outside that the meat of the feedback is hidden, and the receiver does not even hear it. So you do need to be direct.

But if you’re just getting something off your chest, that’s not feedback—that’s anger and venting, and the Spirit leaves you. If you’re angry, write your thoughts down and throw the paper away. Feedback should always be given with the other person’s needs in mind.