Is feedback like Marmite

Cartoon of two people giving and taking feedback
Posted on: Tuesday 09, January 2018
Category: Thought Leadership

Giving and taking feedback is a bit like eating Marmite, you either love it or hate it!

Marmite, if you didn’t know, is a well-known British by-product of beer brewing. It has an extremely distinctive salty taste made from yeast extract. It’s marketing slogan, "love it or hate it" has become a metaphor for something that is an acquired taste or polarises opinions.

Oh uh! Brace yourself, here comes some feedback!

“Can I give you some feedback please?” What happens to you when you hear those words?

On the one hand, for some, you might expect the very worst and instantaneously get a visceral, gut-wrenching, stomach-clenching feeling of shock or horror! That might be closely followed by, ‘OMG! What have I done?’

If that’s you, then you are not alone.

Many people, fear giving feedback because it’s like a red-light warning of entering into the danger zone. Perhaps deeper-down, for some, it reminds them of a painful lesson learned during the rough-and-tumble of growing up and the ups-and-downs of our formative school years. But, you are an adult now, aren’t you? After all, you don’t want to let someone down or upset them either, do you? These are common and very natural reasons why, by default, many people hate feedback and therefore hold-back on giving it.

On the other hand, giving and taking feedback can be welcomed openly. But, that requires some personal and team development first – it’s a valuable skill that doesn’t come naturally so, it needs to be taught and practised too.

While you may never actually love to give and take feedback, the payoff, when done well is that it can genuinely help you to understand yourself better. It develops your self-awareness and resilience as to how aspects of your behaviour affect others. It makes you more emotionally intelligent too, by giving you valuable insights into what not to do, and how to improve and develop a growth mindset. 

Moreover, keep in mind when providing feedback, you need to be highly aware of its impact on others as well as your perception biases and potential unfair judgements of your model of the world.

How open is your feedback window?

Imagine for a moment (as an analogy) that we each have a window through which we interact. The secret to effective communication skills (and high performance for that matter) is for each of us to open our windows as large as possible when interacting with each other. The larger the window, the more we can share and the better a communicator you become. 

But, for less confident or insecure people, the tendency is to do the opposite - to minimise or close off their windows and even to hide behind them. Therefore, through practise, people can learn to open their windows more and also how much to open their windows without sharing inappropriately.

Great communicators are skilled at creating an environment of rapport that enables others to feel safe opening their windows to share freely.  So it is for feedback too. When people feel sufficiently comfortable and secure with another, then they feel more able to give and accept feedback around blind-spots, strengths, weaknesses and areas for future development too. 

How about you - how open is your window to building excellent relationships and developing your feedback skills?

Breaking the 67% barrier - a personal story

In my early presenting days I couldn’t get beyond 67% for good or excellent on feedback forms. But, that meant I still needed to reach the 33% at either good, satisfactory or didn't like - yikes!  That came to a head some years back, after co-presenting with a colleague. The feedback forms once again told the same old story. Grrr! And it hurt.

Frustrated, I asked her, ‘what do I need to change to reach the other 33%? Without judgment, she reached for a higher truth, saying when presenting, she believes that the delegates will like her. In so doing she avoids waisted energy worrying. Instead her focus is all on the message of what she is conveying.

She then said to me, ‘I know you don’t believe that for yourself... yetBut, what if you act as if the audience likes you anyway and you focused your energy on your message instead and not yourself. Imagine what will change?’

I took her feedback, and I applied it. It was the difference that made all the difference to me. And everything changed. From that point on I broke the 67% barrier and started to get top scores consistently. That was over twelve years ago.

Today, When I present or speak, it's not about me. Instead, my hope now is that the audience enjoys it, finds it inspiring and useful. And guess what? On the whole, they do, and I still regularly get top scores! But, remember that one should never stop learning because things don't always go to plan. I still learn to improve from difficult situations, surprises and feedback. That's the only way to continue to get better.

So, that's the power of good timely feedback; we can't grow and develop without it. Moreover, feedback is vital to collaboration, high performance and future business success.

What about feedback in high-performance teams?

Part of what it takes to become a high-performing team, for example, is to learn to develop good feedback skills as a team. The more you practise, the better and more natural you become at giving and accepting it. Feedback often makes all the difference in performance – because behaviour precedes results. But, done poorly, the negative impact often leads to, it feeling meaningless, create defensiveness, tension or, lead to long-term resentment.

So, learning to give and take feedback does, require courage, tact, understanding and respect – remember, it’s a learned skill. It is also about naming certain behaviours in individuals but, not attacking them as people or, being spiteful. Deal with the behaviour; don't attack the person is sound advice.

High-performance teams, build-up one another, and avoid put-downs.

Furthermore, feedback holds your whole team accountable to each other and makes you all take responsibility for your actions and for developing one another. Moreover, it requires individuals to be honest and truthful with each other concerning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. These are also the hallmarks of high performing teams. I’ll pick up on this point again later.

In high-performance teams, the process of giving and taking feedback encourages everyone to learn to fine-tune behaviours that drive people and teams to achieve their outcomes and results. It helps teams and individuals enhance their credibility to do away with and adjust specific behaviours in a useful way.

Think about feedback this way - if you or other teammates are hesitant to give each other feedback, then are you being honest with each other? Probably not!  

Put in those terms then, if you hold-back feedback from one another, it will eventually lead to distrust and dysfunction in your team and so, you all end up with lower performance.

Recently Oprah Winfrey summed this up very well in her widely applauded speech at the 2018 Golden Globes:

Here are a couple of practical high-performance feedback applications to help your team. They are both taken from my latest book - see below.

Top tip #1 - praise-based feedback

Here’s something to make you think!

In my experience in the world of work, we rarely spend any time giving praise-based feedback.

For example, when was the last time you genuinely praised another colleague? For many people, they may have never done this! How about you?

I believe that this is an essential activity with which to create a high-performing team. It’s also a topic I talk about at  speaking engagements too.

Let me explain.

Many people associate feedback with personal weakness or something they’ve done wrong therfore, they brace themselves. We covered this point earlier.

However, when complimented, we feel good about ourselves. But, it’s also a two-way street - you will feel great all day having received it, but so will the giver of the feedback. Yes, that’s true. It is the same when we spend time genuinely and authentically praising or thanking someone for a job done well. It’s a mutually beneficial process.

Learning to give genuine and authentic praise-based feedback freely is easy but, it has a powerful impact so, the payoff, therefore, is people feel good all day, and they cherish it.

Remember too; it doesn't take much, even just saying a simple thank you goes a long way.

It’s like playing tennis when you strike the ball on the racket’s sweet spot and make a winning shot. The server of the shot feels good. But, the receiver also acknowledges it as a great shot (as does the audience). Therefore, everybody feels good.

Warning - notice I’ve used the words genuine and authentic.  Praise-based feedback is not a way of manipulating another for advantage. Certainly not!  Nor, should it be used as a way of softening somebody up, to then follow up with a BUT - and then give a whole stream of negative attributes. For instance, 'I like your tie but, your work is C**p!' No!

Don't do this either...

Therefore, say it and also recieve it with grace. For example, if you are one of those people who reject a compliment through misplaced embarrassment or modesty, then it’s crucial for you to remember that, by doing so, you also dismiss the courage it took for that person to pay you a compliment in the first place. Think about that! Instead, never deny a genuine compliment. Merely listen politely and say thank you. That way you honour the courage of the other person in return. Remember everybody wins.

For more information, please also refer to a practical exercise in my book– details below.

Top tip #2 - valued and unhelpful behaviours feedback

One of the most vital challenges of building high-performance teams is to be accountable to one another. That is particularly important for senior people and leadership teams. A powerful way of developing this is by being willing to overcome any hesitancy in giving one another feedback about each person’s valued and unhelpful behaviours (or strengths and weaknesses).

I often facilitate maturing teams to do this with each other. While they are naturally apprehensive to begin with, they find it a robust, useful and transformational process to go through. Teams I've worked with often value repeating this a few months later. Each time they do it, the more value they get from it.


A very good director friend of mine uses the phrase www.ebi when she talks about feedback in any of her global trainings:


I think this is a smart and balanced structure. The language is memorable and the results powerful too.

As we’ve already mentioned, in the long run, failing to give and accept feedback means, you let each other down. By holding back, you will affect the whole team too. In the end, it leads to low performance.

Download this FREE practical exercise to use with your team from my website (click here).

Summing up

In conclusion, I believe that our future business success will rely more an more on top class leadership of high-performance teams (that's the focus of my blogs). So, good feedback skills is a vital component to make that possible.

I hope you found this blog inspiring, interesting and useful.

Oh, and one more thing...

Developmental or constructive feedback

Yes, I know, I can hear some of you saying, ‘well, all that’s very fine and dandy but, what about constructive feedback, isn’t that important too?’

Absolutely, yes, yes, yes! 

That too is an essential skill to learn to harness.

So, I will cover this with my next blog along with some more top tips – click here for part two Feeback - how hard can it be?


[1,700 words]


Thanks to my colleague for her great feedback, earlier in my presenting career. You know who you are.

My services

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Keynote speaking on leadership, high-performance teams, and growth mindset Click here for more on developing high performance in your teams, as well as executive coaching development workshops, team builds and programmes. 

If you would like to discuss any of the above please contact me.

Sneak peek at my latest book

Click on the image above to head over to order it now. It's getting useful reviews too.

For other books in The Authority Guide Series, click here or on the following graphic:

See my website for more information on developing successful teams or for developing a team charter

Additional resources

(My first book - that helps you to create personal change)

Download my detailed FREE questionnaire too. It measures where you are on an authenticity scale. It includes tips on advancing towards your authentic self. 

Other useful leadership blogs

Leadership - Who is Pulling Your Strings -Leadership development blog from Andrew Jenkins Leadership Development Consultant and Coach

High Performance Teams Fact or Fantasy - Blog Post

Look in the Mirror - That's Who is Standing in Your Way a blog from PDX Consultng leadership and team development experts

Click here for Further blogs

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Note on Graphics:

The header cartoon is mine. for the other photos. Dilbert strip is creative commons use. Photo of Oprah Winfrey - Reuters.


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