Feedback in Communication: The Complete Workplace Guide

Mar 23, 2023 | Real-time Feedback

Getting feedback on communication plays a key role in improving performance. Receiving good feedback in communication will help people at all levels to grow. In fact, it’s one of the most core components of building a great team.

What is feedback in communication, exactly? First, it includes responses to a speaker’s message. Such responses can confirm that the listener has understood the speaker’s words. They can also ask for clarification. In this way, giving (or receiving) feedback completes the communication cycle. 

Feedback in communication can also include general points about communication style. Coworkers can share observations about patterns they’ve seen over time.

Let’s review the benefits and types of feedback in communication in more depth. Then, we’ll examine how to improve feedback in communication. 

Table of Contents

1. The Importance of Feedback in Communication

2. Types of Feedback in Communication

3. Good Strategies for Sharing Feedback

4. Tips for Receiving Feedback in Communication

The Importance of Feedback in Communication

Clear feedback in communication brings far-reaching benefits:

Avoiding misunderstandings that can cause errors. If a miscommunication occurs, people will catch it immediately and correct it in the moment.

Allowing teams to perform at their best. When people fully understand one another’s points, they can work together more effectively. They’ll all understand roles, responsibilities, objectives, and workflow.

Strengthening relationships between colleagues. People will feel personally heard and understood as a result of good feedback on communication.

Improving communication. As people share feedback, communication will grow stronger. They’ll learn to express ideas more clearly and ask the right questions.

Let’s review the different types of feedback in communication that people can provide. 

Types of Feedback in Communication

Two professional women discussing feedback in communication
Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

By understanding the types of feedback on communication, you’ll spot more opportunities to share it every day. We’ll look at some examples of feedback in communication for each of them.

Nonverbal Feedback in Communication

Nonverbal feedback plays a subtle but important role in communication. While a speaker is talking, listeners can use nonverbal feedback in ways like these:

  • Nodding to show they understand the message.
  • Making direct eye contact to show they’re engaged. 
  • Raising eyebrows to show surprise.
  • Narrowing eyebrows or cocking their head to indicate confusion. 
  • Smiling to indicate support for an idea.
  • Using open body language (uncrossed arms, upright posture) to indicate openness to an idea.

People often do these things intuitively in the course of conversation. By watching for signals like these, the speaker may notice opportunities to provide clarification or address concerns.

Next, we’ll look at three types of verbal feedback in communication.

Examples of Positive Feedback in Communication

Any type of feedback can be viewed as positive, as long as it’s delivered effectively. But we’re referring here to feedback that affirms the speaker is communicating well. Here are some examples of how a listener might do that.

First, the listener might confirm what has been said:

  • “I understand that you want the reports by Friday—correct?”
  • “Your presentation was very clear. Here are my main takeaways … ”
  • “You’re appointing me to handle this task, right?” 

Second, the listener might share approval for the speaker’s ideas or approach:

  • “You were very eloquent at the meeting today.”
  • “I like that idea, and I think we should build on it more.”
  • “I appreciate how you made everyone feel included, naming their roles in the project and speaking to them directly.”

Examples of Clarifying Feedback in Communication

Sometimes feedback on communication is neither “positive” or “constructive”—it’s simply trying to clarify a point. Here are a few examples:

  • “Are you saying you need three volunteers?”
  • “Could you re-explain that idea? I’m not understanding.”
  • “Did I hear correctly that you said … ”

Questions can also probe more deeply, asking why the speaker believes in an idea:

  • “How did you reach that conclusion?”
  • “What led you to that decision?”
  • “Who produced the analysis you’re citing?”

Now, let’s look at constructive feedback that listeners can offer.

Examples of Constructive Feedback in Communication

Constructive feedback clarifies areas of confusion. It addresses potential misunderstandings in the moment. And it helps speakers refine their messages. Here are some examples of constructive feedback in communication. 

Listeners can make comments like these in the moment to gain clarity:

  • “I didn’t understand what you just said. Can you back up and re-explain?”
  • “You seem to be making a lot of points. Can you explain more clearly how they’re connected?”
  • “Would you mind speaking more slowly?”
  • “I think that remark is off-topic—let’s get back on track.”

Listeners can also voice general suggestions, sharing them in private:

  • “If you would look up from your notes more when speaking, others might feel more engaged.”
  • “I’ve noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, you speak tersely. It affects the whole team, so I recommend finding strategies to deal with stress calmly.”

Next, we’ll discuss how to actually improve feedback in communication—and help employees improve theirs.

Good Strategies for Sharing Feedback

Close up of colleagues sharing feedback
Credit: CoWomen/Pexels

Use these tips and strategies in your everyday communication. Share them with employees and managers as well. 

Paraphrase ideas back to the speaker. That’s especially important when discussing things like workflow process and duties. 

Speak from your perspective. This means using “I” statements instead of making generalizations. People are more likely to feel defensive if you imply that everyone feels as you do.

Give feedback in the moment if you’re clarifying a point of discussion. More general constructive feedback should be given one-on-one, not in a meeting. For example, feedback on the speaker’s body language should be given privately.

Use instant feedback tools to share feedback in the moment. That way, you won’t forget to share it—and the recipient can benefit immediately. These tools are especially helpful for remote and hybrid workplaces, but they’re also useful in busy offices.

Keep the “strive for 5” principle in mind when giving feedback. “Studies have found that a ratio of 5:1 (positive: negative) feedback may be the ideal balance,” says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Over time, for every piece of critical nor constructive feedback you offer, aim to deliver five messages of positive feedback or affirmations.”

(Clarifying questions would fall into a neutral zone; they are neither “positive” nor “negative.”)

Receiving feedback takes skill as well, as we’ll discuss next.

Tips for Receiving Feedback in Communication

Receiving feedback may sound simple, but it requires tact, receptiveness, and appreciation. Here’s how to become skilled in receiving feedback. Most of these tips apply most strongly to constructive feedback, though sharing gratitude for positive feedback is important, too!

Follow these tips to receive feedback effectively in meetings and one-on-ones:

  • Pay attention to listeners’ posture, eye contact, body language, and verbal responses. That way, you’ll notice their feedback immediately.
  • Clarify questions in the moment whenever possible. Saying, “Can we hold that question until the end of the meeting?” can be very frustrating if their confusion is keeping them from following the flow of ideas.
  • Ask, “Do you have any questions?” regularly as you share instructions or a complex idea. Pause for a moment to wait for responses.
  • Invite people to paraphrase what you’ve said. Try to do this without sounding like you’re testing them. In a meeting, you could say, “Could someone explain the concept I’ve just outlined? I want to make sure I’ve expressed it accurately.” 

Difficult Feedback

If you’re receiving constructive feedback that’s tough to hear, use these strategies to respond:

  • Be open-minded. Remind yourself that your perspective isn’t the only one.
  • Don’t react out of emotion. Tell yourself, “I feel __,” naming the emotion you’re experiencing. “I’m going to take some time to process this before I decide what to do.”
  • Say you’ll think about it if need be. Especially with a weighty topic, you may need time to consider the feedback. Letting the giver of feedback know this will show you’re taking it seriously.
  • Engage in self-affirmation. As Tasha Eurich writes in Harvard Business Review, remind yourself of your positive attributes. Remember other important parts of your identity. This will give you the courage and confidence to deal with constructive feedback.
  • Be thankful. Even if you have doubts about the feedback, share appreciation for it. Voicing the feedback took courage, after all.
  • Get a second (or third) opinion. This could give you a fuller perspective of the issue and confirm the accuracy of the feedback. But even if others don’t agree, take the feedback seriously. For example, if person A says you talk too fast, and persons B and C say you don’t, try to speak more slowly to person A.

Share these tips with employees and managers to build a culture of giving and receiving feedback. Talk about the need for feedback often, too. In doing so, you’ll instill the idea that it’s a normal part of your daily work.

By using these tips, you’ll strengthen workplace communication and relationships. Your teams will have fewer miscommunications and will more fully understand one another’s words. As a result, performance, productivity, and overall success will improve.

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