Feedback – How to move from thumbs down to thumbs up

Mastering the Art of Delivering Hard Feedback: A New Approach for Empowerment and Growth


Delivering difficult feedback can be a daunting task, both for the sender and the recipient. It often involves navigating delicate situations and overcoming the fear of conflict. In this blog post, we will explore a new way to give difficult feedback that not only minimizes threats but also fosters productive conversations and positive outcomes.

thumbs down to thumbs up

Understanding the Reality of Threats:

Feedback, particularly negative feedback, can be perceived as a threat by the recipient. When someone feels threatened, defensiveness and anger can hinder problem-solving and improvement. Recognizing this reality is crucial in finding a better way to deliver feedback effectively.

The Power of Preparation:

Preparing for a difficult conversation is essential to set the stage for success. Amy Jen Su offers some suggestions in getting over your fear of conflict including the importance of having these conversations in the first place. Judy Ringer’s insightful questions provide a framework for self-reflection and ensuring the best intent for the conversation. By approaching the feedback process with a well-prepared mindset, you can create a more conducive environment for constructive dialogue.

Dispelling Emotional Charges:

To create a safe space for the feedback conversation, it is important to dispel any emotional charges. Begin by checking in with the recipient to ensure it is the right time for a conversation. Reassure them that their job is secure, minimizing any perceived threats and increasing the likelihood of a productive discussion.

Focusing on Behavior and Impact:

When delivering feedback, it is crucial to focus on specific behaviors rather than using labels. By sharing observations rather than making accusatory statements, you can avoid defensiveness and encourage a more open dialogue. Describing the impact of the behavior without blaming creates an opportunity for reflection and growth.

The Coaching Moment – resolving the problem:

The most empowering aspect of the feedback process is the resolution phase. Instead of prescribing solutions, it is important to ask questions and encourage the individual to think critically. By facilitating a coaching moment, you can brainstorm possibilities for the future together, fostering autonomy, and ownership.

David Rock’s concept of ‘Neuroleadership’ emphasizes that people are paid to think. By asking thought-provoking questions, you can help individuals make new connections and explore different perspectives. Encouraging their ideas first and then offering your input allows for a collaborative and empowering approach


Ask for all their ideas, and brainstorm with their ideas first.

When you drain their ideas, you can ask for permission to offer your ideas. 

Let’s look at an example


I notice that you reacted strongly and exhibited negative body language when the COO mentioned change initiatives in the meeting this morning.


Meetings becoming tense or negative, and change initiatives being positioned in a negative light.

The Coaching moment:

You could ask any of the following questions:

What is happening for you in these meetings, when the COO mentions these change initiatives?

What do you think of these change initiatives?

How could you have handled this differently?

How would you like to present yourself in meetings?

What have you learned from this situation?

Benefits of this Approach:

  • Foster trust and strengthen relationships.
  • Facilitate a culture of continuous learning and personal growth.
  • Empower individuals to express themselves and value their input.
  • Drive productivity and improve overall performance.
  • Cultivate a supportive environment that fosters innovation and embraces learning