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Mastering the Fine Art of Delivering Candid Feedback for better CX and EX

We all know by now that Customer Experience has become a key differentiator for businesses of all sizes. Companies that prioritize customer experience are more likely to retain their customers and attract new ones. However, delivering candid feedback to customers can be challenging. Especially in such a superficial society we live in, in which appearances seem to be more important than reality. To strike a balance between providing constructive criticism and being empathetic towards customers, it is important to understand the psychological aspects involved in feedback delivery. Let’s dive deeper into this topic and explore some strategies that can help us deliver candid feedback in a way that enhances the customer experience.

This topic is not relevant only to the Customer Experience but also to the Employee Experience perspective as candid feedback is related to human interactions and in the end, we are all humans, aren’t we?


What does candid feedback mean?

Candid feedback is honest, direct, and specific without sugarcoating or euphemisms. The input is intended to help the recipient improve and grow rather than simply make them feel good. It can be positive or negative (or as I prefer to call them, “reinforcing or balancing”) but always constructive and actionable. It is a crucial component in any human environment. It’s the catalyst that drives improvement, fosters better relationships, and encourages self-development. However, giving balancing feedback is often viewed as a daunting task. It requires a delicate balance of tact and honesty, a challenge that can make even the most experienced professionals uncomfortable.

This task becomes less intimidating when we understand the psychological principles behind giving and receiving feedback.

I borrowed the terms reinforcing (positive) and balancing (negative) feedback from diverse areas of science. Reinforcing feedback is when a trend is positively reinforced in a system, creating amplification of the desired output. Balancing feedback happens when some function of the output of a system, process, or mechanism is fed back in a way that restores the balance of the expected output. In this article, I will put a bigger focus on balancing feedback as it’s where most people have difficulties.

Understanding the Psychology Behind Feedback

The psychology behind feedback is rooted in the concept of cognitive dissonance – the mental discomfort that an individual experiences when confronted with new information that contradicts their existing beliefs or values.

Feedback, both giving and receiving, is deeply intertwined with various psychological principles. The knowledge about these principles can enable us to navigate feedback more effectively, turning a potentially challenging interaction into a constructive dialogue. Here are some key psychological principles involved in the feedback process:

  1. Cognitive Dissonance: This principle refers to the mental discomfort or tension that occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, values, or attitudes simultaneously, or is confronted with new information that opposes existing beliefs. When individuals receive negative feedback, it often challenges their self-perception, which can lead to cognitive dissonance. Therefore, delivering feedback in a manner that minimizes this discomfort can greatly impact its acceptance.
  2. Self-Affirmation Theory: According to this theory, individuals are motivated to maintain a positive self-image. When receiving balancing feedback, individuals can feel threatened and may respond defensively. Thus, when giving feedback, it can be beneficial to affirm the recipient’s self-worth and acknowledge their positive qualities to help reduce defensiveness.
  3. Fundamental Attribution Error: This psychological principle suggests that people often attribute others’ behaviors to their character rather than external factors or situations. When giving feedback, it’s crucial to focus on the behavior that needs to be improved, rather than attributing it to the person’s character. This approach can prevent the recipient from feeling personally attacked.
  4. The Halo Effect: This cognitive bias refers to our tendency to let one trait, either good (halo) or bad (horns), overshadow other characteristics. When giving feedback, it’s important to avoid generalizing one instance of negative behavior to the person’s overall performance or character. For example, avoid using phrase structures that label a person such as “you are this”, instead use structures that relate to an action or behavior like “you did this”.
  5. The Recency Effect: This principle suggests that the most recently presented items or experiences will most likely be remembered best. When it comes to feedback, it’s essential to offer it promptly after the event or behavior in question to ensure it’s relevant and actionable.
  6. Active Constructive Responding: This principle focuses on how we respond to others’ news or situations. When giving feedback, it’s important to maintain a solution-oriented approach, focusing on potential improvements rather than just pointing out mistakes.


Why focus on behavior?

By understanding these psychological principles, one can enhance the effectiveness of their feedback, making it more receptive and impactful. Focusing on behaviors rather than attributing feedback to a person’s character is central to effective feedback due to a few key reasons:

  1. Reduces Defensiveness: When feedback is directed at a person’s character, it can often be perceived as an attack on their identity and self-worth, which can naturally lead to defensiveness and resistance. On the other hand, focusing on specific behaviors makes the feedback feel less personal, and thus, more acceptable.
  2. Promotes Change: Behaviors are actions that people have control over and can change. When we focus feedback on behaviors, we’re pointing out something that the individual can work on improving. Character traits, on the other hand, are perceived as more ingrained and unchangeable, making character-focused feedback feel disempowering.
  3. Increases Clarity: By focusing on specific behaviors, feedback becomes more tangible and actionable. It’s clearer what exactly needs to change or improve. When feedback is based on character, it can be vague and confusing, leaving the recipient unsure about what they need to do differently.
  4. Avoids Fundamental Attribution Error: This psychological principle suggests that we tend to attribute people’s actions to their character, rather than considering external circumstances or influences. By focusing on behaviors, we avoid this bias, leading to fairer, more balanced feedback.
  5. Fosters Growth and Learning: When feedback is behavior-focused, it promotes a growth mindset, encouraging the recipient to view the feedback as a learning opportunity rather than a personal critique.

So, focusing on behaviors rather than attributing feedback to a person’s character is not only a fundamental principle of psychology but also a best practice in effective communication.

It fosters an environment of growth, learning, and open dialogue, where feedback serves as a tool for improvement rather than a source of conflict or negative emotions.

The impact of giving feedback on a person’s character versus their behaviors can be quite profound, influencing not only the recipient’s receptiveness to the feedback but also their motivation and ability to change.

How to give better balancing feedback

When we receive balancing feedback, it challenges our self-perception, leading to discomfort and potential resistance. As such, the way we convey this feedback plays a crucial role in its acceptance and subsequent action. Here are some tips on how to provide balancing feedback in a better way:

  1. Empathy and Understanding: The first step in giving balancing feedback effectively is to approach the situation with empathy. Understanding the individual’s point of view and feelings is crucial. Before delivering the feedback, consider the recipient’s perspective, motivations, and the potential impact of your words on their mental state.
  2. The Sandwich Method: The “Sandwich Method” is a common psychological approach to giving balancing feedback. This method involves sandwiching the balancing feedback between two pieces of reinforcing feedback. Start with a reinforcing note, follow it with the balancing feedback, and finish with another reinforcing comment. This method helps to cushion the blow of the balancing feedback, making it easier for the recipient to accept and process.
  3. Use the “I” Statements: Another psychological trick to reduce defensiveness is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying “You did this wrong,” say, “I noticed that this could be improved by…” This approach involves expressing your feelings and thoughts about the situation rather than blaming or accusing the other person, reducing their defensiveness and increasing their receptivity.
  4. Maintain a Solution-Oriented Approach: When giving balancing feedback, always focus on the problem at hand, not the individual. Maintain a solution-oriented approach, suggesting ways for improvement rather than focusing solely on what went wrong. This approach encourages the recipient to think constructively about how to rectify the problem, rather than feeling attacked or criticized
  5. Timing is Key: The timing of the feedback is also crucial. Ideally, feedback should be given as close to the event as possible. This increases the relevance and effectiveness of the feedback. However, it’s also important to ensure that the recipient is in the right state of mind to receive the feedback. If they’re stressed or upset, it might be better to postpone the conversation.
  6. The Power of Active Listening: Active listening is an essential part of giving feedback. Allow the recipient to express their thoughts and feelings about the situation. This shows respect for their viewpoint and helps them feel heard and understood, which can make the feedback process more constructive.


The growth mindset

When feedback is given on a person’s character, it often feels personal and can lead to defensiveness. The recipient may feel attacked or misunderstood, hindering open dialogue and creating a rift in the relationship. Also, character traits are often perceived as inherent and unchangeable, which can lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration.

For instance, telling someone they are “lazy” doesn’t provide them with specific, actionable steps they can take to improve.

On the other hand, when feedback is given on behaviors, it’s usually seen as more constructive and less personal. It focuses on what the person does, not who they are. This can make it easier for the recipient to accept and act upon. For example, instead of labeling someone as lazy, you could point out specific instances where they missed a deadline or didn’t complete a task. This way, the feedback is clear and specific, and the individual knows exactly what they need to do differently.

Focusing feedback on behaviors plays a critical role in nurturing a growth mindset, a concept developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. A growth mindset is the belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

It’s a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishments.

Dweck’s groundbreaking work in the field of motivational psychology revolves around two contrasting mindsets: a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.”

Those with a fixed mindset believe that their talents, intelligence, and abilities are set in stone. They perceive their capabilities as unchangeable, assuming that they are simply born with a certain amount of intelligence and talent. This mindset can lead to an aversion to challenges, fear of failure, and a belief that effort is futile if one isn’t naturally gifted or smart.

Contrarily, individuals with a growth mindset perceive abilities and intelligence as malleable. They believe that they can enhance their capacities through dedication, learning, and persistence. This mindset instills a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.

It perceives failures not as evidence of unintelligence, but as springboards for growth and stretching existing abilities.

The power of a growth mindset lies in the understanding that the effort we put into learning and overcoming challenges is what stimulates our brains to grow and develop. It motivates us to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. Feedback on behaviors aligns perfectly with this mindset and fosters it in several ways:

  1. Specificity: Behavior-based feedback is specific and clear, pointing out exactly what needs to be modified or maintained. This clarity gives individuals a clear path to improvement, reinforcing the belief that growth and change are possible.
  2. Actionability: By focusing on behaviors, the feedback becomes actionable. It highlights what the individual can do differently or better, encouraging them to take control and make changes. This empowers the individual and fosters the belief that they can influence their achievements through their actions.
  3. Separation from Identity: Feedback on behaviors separates the actions from the individual’s identity. This means the feedback is about what the person does, not who they are. This separation helps the person to understand that making mistakes or needing to improve does not make them a failure. It’s a part of the learning process, further promoting a growth mindset.
  4. Fosters Resilience: Behavior-based feedback encourages resilience. When feedback is about a specific action, it’s easier for individuals to bounce back from setbacks because they understand that these are related to actions they can change, not an inherent flaw in their character.
  5. Encourages Challenges: With behavior-based feedback, individuals are encouraged to see challenges as opportunities for improvement rather than threats. They become more willing to step out of their comfort zone and take on new challenges, as they understand that their growth comes from experimenting with different behaviors and learning from the outcomes.

Embracing a growth mindset can ultimately lead to higher achievements and life satisfaction. It is an empowering concept that reminds us that we are not bound by the limitations of natural talent or intelligence, but rather, we have the potential to continuously learn, grow, and improve throughout our lives.



Giving balancing feedback requires patience, practice, and understanding. By employing psychological principles, you can transform a potentially difficult conversation into a constructive dialogue that promotes growth and improvement. Remember that feedback’s goal is to encourage development and strengthen relationships, not to criticize or demoralize. With empathy, tact, and a solution-focused mindset, you can deliver negative feedback that is both effective and respectful.

Focusing feedback on behaviors instead of character has a significant positive impact on the recipient’s acceptance of the feedback, their relationship with the feedback giver, and their motivation and ability to improve. It creates an environment that encourages growth, learning, and open communication, ultimately leading to better performance and stronger relationships. It not only makes feedback more effective but also contributes to nurturing a growth mindset by fostering the belief that change is possible, encouraging resilience, and promoting a love for learning and growth.

#customerexperience #employeeexperience #CX #EX #H2H #TheH2HExperiment #feedback #candidfeedback

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