How to give great feedback? Try this four-step method

Getting feedback is hard. Giving feedback is even harder. Here’s how to do it properly and empower your team.

Michelle Tillis Lederman: I love thinking about leveraging the laws of likability when giving feedback. Because feedback is only effective if somebody can receive it. So you want to present feedback, I say, on a silver platter and not on a garbage can lid. You have to remember it’s not about your communication style, It’s about theirs. The best way to develop your people is to flex to them, to empower them, to adapt your style to what they need. That’s a manager. That’s a leader. That’s a coach. So if they’re somebody who really likes direct feedback even if it’s something you’re not comfortable with they will respect and be able to take it in better if you can just get to the point. If you’re somebody who’s really direct and they need a little bit more tact and diplomacy, then you’re going to need to massage your messaging so, again, it can be heard.

There’s a correlation between the speed at which somebody receives that feedback and the importance that they place on it. When you delay feedback, you delay the value you’re placing on it. So, immediacy is important. Now, not in the exact moment; let them have a moment to breathe. But don’t wait more than a day, if you can, if it’s really crucial. You had that weekly meeting; sometimes it will fade from your memory by that point. It becomes less important to you and to them. So make sure you give that feedback quickly and specifically. Don’t just say, 'Oh, I think it went well.' Tell them why you thought it went well. What specifically they did that you thought went well. And then challenge them with the next opportunity. Give them something to keep growing from.

So if you think about the most important law of likability it’s the law of curiosity. And I have a model that you can use to walk through any challenging or feedback conversation that will leverage these laws of likability, starting with curiosity. Curiosity creates connections and connection is important in these conversations because when you are receiving feedback you’re considering your source. And when you don’t value, trust or like source then you might not be really willing to take that information in. 

So the model has four parts: ask, elaborate, empower, collaborate. 'Ask' is going to leverage that law of curiosity. Start with a question and make sure that question is open-ended. It’s not, you know: 'Do you think that went well?' Which is implying that you don’t think that went well. Instead, you ask: 'How do you think it went? What do you think went well? What do you think could have gone better?' And get them talking. That’s the key to opening up a feedback conversation, it’s to get the information from them. It actually makes it easier on you as a manager because you see where they’re at, what they already know. They’re bringing information in the room and you can determine, 'Oh, we’re about on the same page,' or 'We have completely different views of the situation.' And that will help kind of tweak the information that you need to bring into the room.

Oftentimes people are much harder on themselves than you will ever be on them. When you ask, the next law of likability is the most important thing: you have to listen. So, listen for the understanding, listen for the concern, listen for a different view or interpretation of the situation. Because we know we’re coming in with a belief about what happened. We need to try to check that assumption at the door and listen for other possibilities, other narratives. 

All right, so we’ve asked, we’ve listened. Now it’s your turn as the manager. Ask, elaborate. This is your chance to add information that you might have heard collected from other sources. Be additive. Don’t say, 'Well I heard...' Instead, you’ll say, 'Additionally, I received information from so and so, and this and that,' and you’re bringing in that information: 'My perspective of...' and it could be elevating them. Feedback isn’t always negative. You don’t have to brace them and you don’t have to brace yourself. Feedback is simply information, and it’s information that you want to make somebody able to use and put into action. 

So that is the first half of the conversation. Before you move on to the second half what I want you to think about are root causes. What are the root causes and the reasons that it went so well? What are the root causes and the reasons that it didn’t to so well? Is there something that’s underlying that can help us in the second half of this conversation where we’re looking for the solutions? Did you not have training? Did you not have authority? Did you not have budget? What happened? Let’s evaluate that before we move on.

Now, you’re going to throw it back to the other person. You’re going to empower them. Get them to throw the ideas out of what they think the next step should be. So, 'What would you do differently next time?' or 'How do you think we can move forward from here?' are great questions to start the empower phase. 

As we empower them and bring those ideas you have to be very careful at that last stage of the conversation where you’re collaborating, because as the manager, as the leader, when you put your idea out there they’re just going to defer. So build off of their ideas: 'I love that. I think in addition you could also do this or maybe even switch the order. What do you think?' The collaboration isn’t a dictation. The collaboration is the exchange. Now another key thing that can happen in that last phase of the feedback, especially when things might not have gone the way that you wanted, is to leverage the law of similarity. By sharing an experience that you went through that might be similar to what they’re experiencing, you create a teachable moment. You build trust. When you’re vulnerable with your employees you actually increase your credibility. So remember vulnerability is not about weakness. It’s about openness. So share the story of how when things didn’t go so well for you what you did, what you learned, how it went and let them know it’s okay. We all make mistakes and we can still get to the positions that you’re in. And the last thing to remember is the law of likability called mood memory. Because if they walk away from that conversation not feeling good, they’re going to want to throw out all of the information that they’ve received. So mood memory is that people remember more how you make them feel than anything that you said. So ensure that you are being action oriented; feedback is not about berating somebody or punishing. You focus on the past to make a plan for the future. That’s feedback.

Want to motivate your team? Learn to give useful feedback. "Likability leadership expert" Michelle Tillis Lederman explains her four-step method that can make feedback conversations go smoothly and funnel toward growth. The steps are: ask, elaborate, empower, and collaborate, and Tillis Lederman explains each thoroughly in this video, as well as adding useful information about timing, tone, checking your biases, and staying action-oriented. "Feedback is not about berating somebody or punishing. You focus on the past to make a plan for the future. That’s feedback," says Lederman. Getting feedback is hard. Giving feedback can be even harder. Here’s how to do it properly and empower your team. Michelle Tillis Lederman's new books are Nail the Interview, Land the Job and The 11 Laws of Likability.

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
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CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
  • The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
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Mammals dream about the world they are entering even before birth

A study finds that baby mammals dream about the world they are about to experience to prepare their senses.

Michael C. Crair et al, Science, 2021.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find that babies of mammals dream about the world they are entering.
  • The study focused on neonatal waves in mice before they first opened their eyes.
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