Receiving and Giving Effective Feedback

We are continually receiving and giving feedback, both explicitly through oral and written language, and implicitly through gestures and tone of voice. It is important to distinguish feedback from evaluation. Feedback is a formative assessment tool that uses descriptive, constructive, and nonjudgmental language. Evaluation is a summative assessment tool that judges outcomes and allows for comparison against a standard of performance.

Providing iterative feedback is preferable as this provides the recipients the opportunity to improve before participating in the next activity and before a formal evaluation. Effective feedback is achieved by establishing a positive interpersonal relationship between the person(s) providing feedback and the recipient(s) as this creates an environment that fosters development.

Receiving Feedback Effectively

  • Listen to the feedback given. This means not interrupting. Hear the person out, and listen to what they are really saying, not what you assume they will say. You can absorb more information if you are concentrating on listening and understanding rather than being defensive and focusing on your response.
  • Be aware of your responses. Your body language and tone of voice often speak louder than words. Try to avoid putting up barriers. If you look distracted and bored, that sends a negative message as well. Attentiveness, on the other hand, indicates that you value what someone has to say and puts both of you at ease.
  • Be open. This means being receptive to new ideas and different opinions. Often, there is more than one way of doing something and others may have a completely different viewpoint on a given topic. You may learn something worthwhile.
  • Understand the message. Make sure you understand what is being said to you, especially before responding to the feedback. Ask questions for clarification if necessary. Listen actively by repeating key points so that you know you have interpreted the feedback correctly. In a group environment, ask for others’ feedback before responding. As well, when possible, be explicit as to what kind of feedback you are seeking beforehand so you are not taken by surprise.
  • Reflect and decide what to do. Assess the value of the feedback, the consequences of using it or ignoring it, and then decide what to do because of it. Your response is your choice. If you disagree with the feedback, consider asking for a second opinion from someone else.
  • Follow up. There are many ways to follow up on feedback. Sometimes, your follow-up will simply involve implementing the suggestions given to you. In other situations, you might want to set up another meeting to discuss the feedback or to re-submit the revised work.

Giving Effective Feedback

Prioritize your ideas. Limit your feedback to the most important issues. Consider the feedback’s potential value to the receiver and how you would respond – could you act on the feedback? As well, too much feedback provided at a single time can be overwhelming to the recipient.

  • Concentrate on the behaviour, not the person. One strategy is to open by stating the behaviour in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you want. This model enables you to avoid sounding accusatory by using “I” and focusing on behaviours, instead of assumed interpretations. Example: “I haven’t seen you in class in for a week. I’m worried that you are missing important information. Can we meet soon to discuss it?”
    Instead of: “You obviously don’t care about this course!”
  • Balance the content. It is important to provide the recipient with balanced feedback regarding their strengths and their opportunities for growth. Providing feedback on strengths acts to identify and reinforce the learning, skills, and behaviours that the recipient should continue engaging in. Providing feedback on opportunities for growth and improvement with actionable and tangible methods of implementation enables the recipient to make necessary changes. 
  • Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the receiver. Try to include examples to illustrate your statement. As well, offering alternatives rather than just giving advice allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
  • Be realistic. Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something over which they have no control. Also, remember to avoid using the words “always” and “never.” People’s behaviour is rarely that consistent.
  • Own the feedback. When offering evaluative comments, use the pronoun “I” rather than “they” or “one,” which would imply that your opinion is universally agreed on. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion.
  • Be timely. Seek an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key since feedback loses its impact if delayed too long. Delayed feedback can also cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. As well, if your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.
  • Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions, and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.


  • Dempsey, J.V. and G.C. Sales (Eds.). (1993) Interactive Instruction and Feedback. Educational Technology Publication. NJ: Englewood Cliffs
  • Henderson, M., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., Dawson, P., Molloy, E., and Mahoney, P. (2019). Conditions that Enable Effective Feedback. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(7), 1401-1416.
  • How to Use Feedback Effectively: A Guide for Students (PDF)
  • Jug, R., Jiang, X., and Bean, S.M. (2019). Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback: A Review Article and How-To Guide. Arch Pathol Lab Med., 143, 244-250.
  • London, M. (1997) Job Feedback: Giving, Seeking, and Using Feedback for Performance Improvement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • McGill, I. and L. Beaty (1995) Action Learning. 2nd Ed. London: Kogan Page Ltd.
  • Ossenberg, C., Henderson, A., and Mitchell, M. (2019). What Attributes Guide Best Practice for Effective Feedback? A Scoping Review. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 24, 383-401.
  • Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Feedback for Learning, 70(1), 10-16.

teachingtipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Receiving and giving effective feedback. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.