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Tip How to Give Feedback to Your Peers

 Michael Auzenne and Mark Horstman have a refreshing take on feedback, “Given that there are at least 100 things done correctly for each mistake made, we should be giving out 100 positive feedback statements to one negative feedback.”  Unfortunately, it rarely works that way.

In their podcast, How to Give Feedback to Peers (and Bosses), Auzenne and Horstman discuss the fact that we do not give nearly enough positive feedback.  In fact, we usually associate “feedback” with “negative,” which evokes an expectation of “conflict.”  At its core, the fear of conflict weakens our will to give feedback. 

In addition to a lack of will, however, is a lack of skill.  The way people give feedback, especially negative feedback, can actually cause the conflict we want to avoid.  Too often, our focus is on a characterization or attitude, such as “You are angry,” “You don’t respect my work,” “You are so self-righteous.”  The problem is that if it is not a behavior that can be easily observed, you are bound to cause a defensive reaction. 

Auzenne and Horstman present a simple technique for how to give feedback to a peer-two easy steps.  (This is just for feedback to peers, or perhaps to supervisors!  Giving feedback to your subordinates, or students, requires two extra steps which are not included here.) 

Step 1 is to state the behavior, simply and concretely.  For example, “When you show up late …” or “When you tell me you’ll have it done, but don’t do it …”   Step 2 is to describe the impact.  One or two impacts are sufficient, don’t pile them on.

This is what some positive and negative feedback statements look like.

  • “When you do such detailed data analysis … it makes me really glad we’re co-authoring this paper together.”
  • “When you report back to the department about your University service, it helps me understand that committee’s work and also your valuable input. Thanks for being on the committee.”
  • “When you come late to meetings … it throws things off and we get behind”
  • “When you tell me you’ll have the lecture done and don’t follow through … I can’t finish preparing the exercises and our class doesn’t flow for the students”

Framing the feedback is pretty easy.  “When you do that behavior, this impact happens.”  But there is one more critical point-how it sounds.  If you take a casual, peer to peer tone, your feedback will be a piece of input you are giving to the other person.  Relax, ease up, give it as a friend and it will be received as such.  In Michael Auzenne’s words, “Feedback is not judgment, it is only insight.”

Oh, one more tip.  Practice this first with a couple dozen pieces of positive feedback.  You’ll be amazed.

This tip is based on a podcast by Michael Auzenne and Mark Horstman called from The Peer Feedback Model, delivered on 10/22/2006, found at