If you want to successfully lead people, you’ll need to get really good at delivering AND receiving feedback. Because businesses that thrive in today’s environment are really good at adjusting to market conditions, individuals, team, and their leaders are continually engaging in feedback conversations designed to learn and adjust rapidly.

I’ve been reading about this in Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnson (Stanford Business Books, 2015). The authors suggest separating three different pieces of every feedback conversation in order to disentangle judgment, abstractions and opinions that make such conversations messy.

Ask different questions to separate out the different pieces you wish to communicate:

  • Data: What actually happened in this situation? What evidence do you have? What are the facts that everyone would agree upon?

  • Feeling: How are you feeling about this? What is the strength of the emotion you’re feeling?

  • Impact: What is the impact of this behavior on the workplace? How do you know this?

Data, Feelings, and Impact

The most difficult part of feedback conversations is sorting out emotions from the stories we invent to interpret what we saw or experienced. Feelings are at the core of every difficult conversation.

“We urge leaders to name the emotion that arises for them in part because emotions are contagious and leaders’ emotions tend to be the most contagious of all.” ~ Stone, D., Patton, B., and Heen, S., Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Penguin 2000.)

If leaders don’t name the emotion they are feeling as a part of their feedback about the incident, the receiver will make up a story to interpret what that emotional affect is. This makes the feedback conversation murkier and more confusing than it already is. Feelings are vital data and they need to be named and identified as part of the conversation.


The third part of all feedback conversations is to describe the impact of the event on the leader, the others, and the organization. This may seem obvious, but it too gets tangled. Leaders need to non-judgmentally describe the consequence of the behavior, the negative things that happened as a result. What is the evidence there is a connection?

In order to turn a feedback conversation into a learning conversation, there is an essential element that still might be missing. To enable the looping of the feedback loop, one must remember to stop talking and actually listen.

And that’s the topic of my next post. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. How well are you sorting out the data, the feelings, and the impact in your feedback conversations? How often are you learning from these encounters? I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.