Giving Feedback: The art of speaking up to collaborate and empower

Blog post MariTere Molinet, Guest BloggerSREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program Graduate
MariTere Molinet
An occasional series from the Doctoral Scholars Program on postsecondary topics

When I first started my Ph.D. program, I was taken aback that none of the talks offered to graduate students focused on how to give feedback to others. Plenty of workshops discussed how to receive feedback, but coming from an industry where feedback was encouraged and expected, I felt we were missing a part of a very important equation.

Giving feedback is just as important as receiving it. And while the idea of giving feedback to a peer or supervisor may seem intimidating at first, as graduate students we need to develop this muscle to build better, healthier working relationships, both in our programs and in our future careers.

Of course, there are always challenges to giving effective feedback. We may have difficulty saying the right thing at first. We may have to deal with a negative reaction from the person receiving it. But in the long run, working in an environment where everyone can give feedback develops trust, enhances collaboration, and empowers both the giver and the receiver. 

Giving feedback is never easy. But like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. I always recommend starting slowly with people you feel comfortable with. Rather than starting with your direct supervisor, ask a peer or colleague if they are open to receiving feedback and practice with them. If that is still difficult, practice with a friend what you want to say.

When you do start providing feedback for others, it’s important to keep in mind that feedback will only be effective if exercised the right way. It needs to be thoughtful, and meant to encourage growth. Here are some do’s and don’ts when giving feedback:

Do’s Don’ts
Be clear and direct Be vague or unclear
Keep it simple Overexplain
Be specific Cushion the blow
Be timely Wait
Make it actionable Make it personal

You should always be prepared to provide more context if the other person has questions, and prepare too for the possibility that they will not have a positive reaction. If that’s the case, I recommend giving them the space to vent and then at a more appropriate time having a separate conversation. I once gave feedback to someone who reacted poorly at first and gave me “feedback to the feedback.” I just listened and did not respond defensively. After they had an opportunity to think about it, they apologized and explained that they had never received that type of feedback. We talked about it and ended up with a more mutually respectful and transparent working relationship afterwards.  

Lastly, set the expectations early. Anytime I begin a new working relationship with a peer or supervisor I always have the feedback talk. I let them know that I am open to feedback and ask if it is OK for me to give feedback to them when needed. Creating that kind of trust opens the door for you to receive feedback, too, and opens the lines of communication between all parties. The other person will trust that you’ll hold them accountable and that they will do the same for you.

Marie T. (MariTere) Molinet is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University. She is a recipient of the 2CI Fellowship in Evidence-Based Policy and the SREB dissertation year doctoral award. Her research includes gender differences in offending, and the effects of online neighborhoods on collective efficacy, fear, and social controls. She has co-authored several papers on the topics of foster care, police response to harm, and women’s criminal self-efficacy. MariTere is also a mentor of undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing a degree or career in Criminal Justice. Lastly, MariTere collaborates with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) as an outreach volunteer for newly diagnosed Spanish speaking families. Prior to pursuing an academic career in Criminal Justice, MariTere was an international media executive for over 10 years.