top of page

5 Ingredients That Build Up Your Leadership Skills Muscles: Episode 3 – Giving And Receiving Feedback

Written by: Roxana Radulescu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Roxana Radulescu

Episode 2 of our Leadership Series started a series of its own: communication. We talked about a maybe not so obvious communication tool, which we sometimes forget to use, or maybe don’t make enough use of, out of our desire to communicate right away. We talked about listening.

Close up photo of human eye

In this episode, we talk about one of the tools we use – almost all the time – to express ourselves, our likes and dislikes, wants and needs: giving and receiving feedback in a way that’s productive, instead of hurtful or defensive!

Feedback is a powerful communication tool if it’s used regularly, on time and done properly. It encourages open communication within teams, increases accountability and trust among team members, and leads to good and healthy relationships.

‘Let me give you some feedback’, ‘I don’t like how they tackled this, but I can’t tell them that’, ‘I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings if I give them constructive feedback’.

Situations of all sorts, where we’d rather avoid telling people around us how we stand, for fear we’d hurt them, or jeopardize the relationship, or demotivate them. We tend to associate feedback with criticism and tend to avoid giving it as much as possible.

In doing that, we, in fact, delay communication from happening when it needs to happen, the result being that, when we finally can’t deal with the situation anymore and decide to give our feedback, it’s often too late and irrelevant!

1. How to give productive feedback, instead of hurtful

Productive feedback can be either positive or constructive. If it’s positive, it means that’s a behavior people want to see repeated. If it’s constructive, then we’re talking about a behavior that needs to change.

As one of the participants in my Workplace Culture and Communication workshops put it, ‘giving feedback the way you teach it to us is opportunity: to show appreciation, to learn, to grow, to solve an issue, to change something that’s not working’. I love that perspective!

The focus

Productive feedback focuses on behavior, not personality.

Behavior is what a person does or says, actions you can photograph or words you can record.

When we focus on behavior, we don’t tell people who or what they are or aren’t. We tell them:

  • what they said or didn’t say

  • what they did or didn’t do

Productive feedback helps the other see things from a different standpoint.

This is why it’s important to use ‘I’ messages – where the focus is on how I view things, not on how you are or are not. You will know better than me how you are.

Therefore, when I say something like: ‘you are wrong’ the immediate reply will be ‘no, I’m not’. Saying something like “I didn’t like it that you assumed I wanted to leave earlier” is more specific and leaves room for us to clarify both our standpoints.

Giving positive feedback

We talked about ‘I’ messages. They are called this way because they help us start the discussion with ourselves in the spotlight, not the other.

So, we start the sentence with ‘I’ instead of ‘You’:

I appreciate how you kept your cool and maintained an assertive stance when our client complained; it looked professional.

Instead of: ‘You handled the complaint well’.

Starting with ‘I’ helps me be more specific and gives you valuable input. It helps me ‘make the movie’ of what happened and give my definition of a ‘professional’ outlook. It is specific, clear, and it helps you know what you did well.


‘You are great!’ – is not feedback.

It’s an appreciation, nothing more. It leaves you with no clue why I just said that. What specifically was great about me that will make me want to repeat that behavior in a similar future situation?

Remember: positive feedback is about letting the other person know what you value about what they are doing well. You are encouraging them to repeat that behavior in the future.

Giving constructive feedback

We also use ‘I’ messages when we give constructive feedback (or especially then)! The difference from positive feedback is that we also include how we feel about the situation and direct the discussion towards a solution that is acceptable to us in the future.

Start with I: ‘I noticed you were late 5 times this week and I’m concerned, because this is delaying our work on Project X. I wanted to discuss this with you, so we make a plan to ensure we stay on track. 

Instead of: ‘You were late 5 times this week, it’s unacceptable!’ 


‘You’re so negative’ – is not feedback. It’s a statement that can be contradicted. It makes me almost immediately reply ‘No, I’m not’. 

It also doesn’t feed me any valuable information as to what makes you say that or what you understand by it.

Remember: constructive feedback is about changing behavior for different results. We are working with the other person to help them figure out the changes they need to make, and discuss who or what might support them in the process.

Giving feedback, especially when it’s constructive, means courage; the courage to be honest, to tell you my truth and how things look from where I stand, while feeling uncomfortable and expecting you will disagree with me. It’s the courage to start a dialogue on what doesn’t work so we can agree on what will work for both of us from now on.

2. How to receive feedback productively, instead of defensively

It’s funny, isn’t it, how, when we talk about feedback, we typically have this preconceived image of someone, usually ‘the boss’, coming and telling us we’ve done something wrong. They say it and leave it with us. And that’s it. End of conversation.

First, that’s not a conversation. That’s a monologue, a criticism, a line. And it certainly is not feedback.

Feedback is a dialogue.

Feedback is supposed to do exactly that: feed someone ‘back’ so they are able to grow, to improve

Now, the question is, how can I make it a dialogue?

Let’s look at these 6 steps to receiving feedback productively, instead of defensively:

1. Focus

This is the hardest part, and it’s right at the beginning! We need to listen (so you might want to revisit the article on listening now). This means no interruptions. No escaping into defensive strategy building just concentrate on what is being said.


  • Lower down the volume of distractions, especially the internal ones!

  • Be prepared to discuss solutions, not take sides (not even your side!)

2. Reflect back: summarize and paraphrase

Summarize key messages to demonstrate you have got the intended messages and that you are listening. Their views are valid, even if you do not think that they are correct. You’re looking at the same thing from two different standpoints!


  • What I’m hearing is…

  • You mentioned ‘process needs improvement’ a few times so far…

3. Explore: ask, don’t assume

You may not agree with what you hear and that’s ok, we’re not supposed to agree with everything and everyone!

Knowing this, you can simply focus on wanting to understand what is being said and why this person is reacting in this way.

Ask yourself: if this person is 10% right, what are they right about? Stay calm (breathing always helps), show interest and seek examples to clarify.

Ask for more information. Ask questions to find out more about the topic and, whilst they are at it, more about any other topic too.

In this part, we say ‘So’ a lot!


  • So, by [this], do you mean [that]?

  • Can you give me an example?

4. Express your observations, concerns, assumptions

When receiving feedback, we need to express our observations, concerns, assumptions, ideas and feelings.

Keeping it all bottled up never helped anyone, under any circumstance. At some point, the bubble can only burst. Express yourselves without being defensive or aggressive.

Express your honest reactions from a place of observation and care.


  • My concern is…

  • I’m afraid that if we change this now it will result in…

5. Say ‘thank you’

They took the time to observe and think about how they express their observations. That’s one definition of caring. It takes a lot of courage for anyone to come forward and give constructive feedback, knowing that we’re not going to like what we hear, knowing that they, as ‘feedbackers’, might end up being misunderstood, judged, criticized.

Talking to each other from this place of caring about what is going to happen next always helps. Acknowledging and respecting each other’s effort in both giving and receiving feedback, that takes that dialogue to a whole new level! A level where collaboration starts and creativity sparks. A level that takes us to the 6th step below.

6. Decide/agree on the next steps

Now that we agree on what the issues and concerns are, we can decide on the solutions. Feedback discussions need to be solution-oriented. Anything less is not feedback.

So, make your list of solutions you agreed on and decide how and when you are going to implement them.

Instead of conclusion

Our relationships can only be as healthy as the food we give them! Feedback should be just that, healthy food for healthy relationships, both professional and personal!

And yes, feedback takes a lot of courage: the courage to be honest, to tell you my truth and how things look from where I stand, while feeling uncomfortable and expecting you will disagree with me. It’s the courage to have a dialogue on what I don’t agree with from what you just said, and agree on what will work for both of us from now on.

This kind of courage, to have that ‘tough conversation’ rather than ignore it, to show-up rather than hide away, that’s what fosters accountability and trust.

And leadership is that place where trust is present at all times, good or bad.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Roxana!

Roxana Radulescu Brainz Magazine

Roxana Radulescu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Roxana is the Founder of All Personal, a Canadian award-winning leadership and team coaching & training company helping corporate team leaders and start-up co-founders boost leadership skills to become dream ‘bosses’ and build dream teams. Unlike other people leadership programs that focus on top executives, All Personal also works with mid-senior corporate leaders and start-up co-founders and their teams!Roxana is a TEDx speaker, a certified Professional Coach ACC with the International Coaching Federation, EIA with the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), and Team Coach ITCA with EMCC, Scaled OKRs coach and a certified GCologist®. She holds a diploma in Learning & Development and Human Resources practice from the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development in the UK.

Having worked in international top-tier legal consulting firms (Linklaters, White & Case, Kinstellar) for 16+ years, and having led the firm-wide Learning & Development department for 8+ years, she founded All Personal in 2017.

Roxana has also designed and delivered the Workplace Culture and Communication program at York University and College Boreal in Toronto, and has authored various leadership programs on award-winning e-learning platforms.

Romanian born & raised and also a proud Canadian, she is a GenX​ mom of 2 Gen Zs​,​ who works with (mostly) Millennial leaders​,​ while partnering with other leaders from the Boomer and GenX generations. Roxana is a firm believer in the power of inter-generational learning and loves the multicultural blend of European​,​ Canadian and US influences in her life.


Further resources



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page