When we started this five-part series that looks at the skills you need to succeed and excel as a data leader, we noted that ‘soft’ key leadership skills are crucial for success. In our fourth blog of the series, we focus on one of the tougher skills: the benefits of giving and receiving feedback. 

Giving feedback in the right way, is a simple technique that can totally transform both your own, and your data teams’ performance. However, the truth is that most of us are fearful of the word ‘feedback’, never mind the process. Who looks forward to their performance review? We think it’s either going to result in painful discussions that become a personal attack or fear we will come across as a prima donna seeking praise.

However, giving and receiving feedback is an important process both for our own self-development and for the business overall.

As Tom Rath explains, “Employees who report receiving recognition and praise within the last seven days show increased productivity, get higher scores from customers, and have better safety records. They’re just more engaged at work.”

So why not turn the pain into gain and try our top five tips for giving and receiving feedback and watch your data team thrive.

5 top tips for giving feedback…

  1. Timeliness

If thoughts are fresh in people’s minds, the impact of the feedback is accentuated. Annual reviews, that focus on an action six months ago lose their force and opportunity to improve now, but it’s also important not to give feedback when you (or they) are emotionally charged or distracted. Timing is everything.

  1. Place and purpose

Think about the right place to give your feedback, and its purpose. Constructive feedback should take place in a private environment, but positive feedback could be in public assuming that works for the receiver. If the feedback topic is likely to be a sensitive issue, in-person, rather than virtual, allows a lot more control on the conversation.

Weekly 1-2-1’s are a great way to make feedback from both parties become common practice, meaning there’ll be no surprises at appraisal time, and both sides will get more from their working relationship.

  1. Provide understandable points

Give context, be clear and specific. Think about how best to approach your feedback with the individual. As with presentations and negotiations, a little preparation can go a long way. The impact of feedback can be powerful, so make sure you deliver it effectively.

  1. Have a constructive dialogue

Avoid the confrontation scenario. Instead, have a two-way conversation. Ask questions, for example, ‘How do you see it?’ or ‘What are your thoughts?’ or ‘How can I help you to ….’. A coaching approach becomes very powerful in these discussions. “Telling” can be perceived as confrontational, whereas “asking” is softer, and allows the person to reflect, open-up more about the topic and share their thoughts.

There should be areas to improve on, but also share the things that they do well and should continue to do more of moving forward. Feedback should aim to inspire growth, so it is essential to strike a balance between pointing out areas for improvement and highlighting the person’s strengths. A feedback sandwich is a useful technique where positive feedback serves as a cushion for negative feedback and leaves the conversation on a positive note.

  1. Set actions or goals

Effective feedback is goal orientated and actionable.  It’s this subtle difference of giving advice that is clearly actionable that separates effective from ineffective feedback. Discuss and agree on an action, and look for areas to recognise improvement.  Don’t miss the opportunity to also give some praise. In the words of Mary Kay Ash “There are two things’ people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.” 


5 top tips for receiving feedback…

  1. Get over the fear

Accept people’s thoughts and work with what they’re saying. Don’t immediately jump to a defensive position. Feedback creates a greater sense of self-awareness, builds resilience, provides direction, and motivates us to improve. Remind yourself of the benefits of feedback and push yourself to proactively seek it out.

  1. Go to a number of sources

Each person sees the world in a different way, so go for a consensus view from people you respect, but don’t necessarily always agree with you. Explain upfront which specific areas you’d like feedback on and how much detail you prefer and start the conversation by offering your own reflections. Your goal is to get an unbiased picture of your strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Embrace the opportunity

The goal of feedback should be to either start a new behaviour, stop an existing behaviour, or continue a behaviour that’s working well. It’s all valuable input, so make the most of these new insights to reflect, refine and grow.

  1. Be curious

Ask questions and ask for examples, such as ‘When have I acted like this?’ or ‘What could I do to improve?’ That way, you can form a clear picture of some of the things you could do to change.

  1. Reflect and make a plan

Simply having the conversation isn’t enough. Take the time to evaluate the extent to which you understand, agree with and, crucially, want to change due to the feedback. After receiving feedback, express appreciation for the insights provided. Gratitude shows respect for the time and effort invested by the giver.

Additionally, consider following up with the person later to discuss progress made and show a commitment to personal growth. Write down specifically what you are going to do differently as a result, including firm actions and a deadline. As Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you change nothing, nothing will change.


We all know that feedback helps employees and team members to be more engaged and valued at what they do, to improve and grow, but feedback is often framed and executed in a negative or confusing way.  By adapting a neutral approach, with no judgement and by making feedback two-way, it becomes a conversation where both parties can grow and improve; it’s a win-win.

The art of giving and receiving feedback is a valuable skill in both personal and professional relationships. By providing specific, objective, and constructive feedback, we can empower others to improve and reach their full potential. Equally important is receiving feedback with an open mind, actively listening, and seeking clarification when needed. When both giving and receiving feedback are approached with empathy, respect, and a growth mindset, it becomes a transformative tool that fosters continuous learning and development for all those involved in the process. 

Our final blog in this series will look at Collaboration.


If you found this article useful, and you’d like to help your best people and teams excel through data leadership coaching, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. To find out more email: tony@nuatraining.co.uk

 About Tony Lamb
Tony Lamb is a Director of Nua Training and Lamb Direct Consulting Ltd.  He has over 30 years’ experience of launching and running data businesses and building high performing teams. His last inhouse role was as Head of Data Strategy at Royal Mail.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash


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