Sticking your neck out: the highs and lows of feedback culture

When did you last open your mind and ears to listen to some honest, constructive feedback? 

It’s an essential ingredient for performance improvement, but people can find the process of giving and receiving feedback difficult. This can lead to misunderstandings and awkwardness. Research buyers and Strategic research consultancies share an opportunity to improve feedback communication. 

In our latest blog Jon Tayler, Director at Incite, shares his feedback experiences and tips.

Click here to download Incite’s ‘Four Steps to Better Feedback’ cheat sheet.

colleagues in conversation at laptops

Last Tuesday afternoon I was feeling particularly uncomfortable. I was listening to feedback on my recent work. The feedback contained three specific suggestions of how to improve my work. Yes, three! 

I know that I should have felt grateful for this information, for the opportunity to learn and improve. Some even call it a “gift.” 

Instead, my stomach was squirming. I had to fight the urge to interrupt and defend myself. A succession of “but…” thoughts cycled through my mind. 

Maybe I wasn’t in quite the right mood for a feedback sesh? 

Does this make me a hypocrite? Because we’ve recently been trying to build a stronger feedback culture at Incite. 

Our people choose from a menu of bitesize training options and we’re creating more opportunities to feedback to each other. We want more positive feedback, as well as the negative. The ambition is that combining training and feedback in a loop will accelerate our performance improvement. 

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” Daniel Kahneman, Psychologist & Economist. 

How can feedback between research buyers and their strategic research consultancies be more effective? Yes, we usually have a formal annual review. But what about the rest of the year? 

Here are four steps to better feedback. 

1/ Signal in advance 

This gives the receiver a chance to prepare themselves, to lower their defences, to open their mind and ears. Or to suggest an alternative date if they need more time.

When you do move to giving the actual feedback, you’ve improved the chance that the receiver will hear it and act upon it.

  • “Would it be OK if I shared some feedback with you?” 
  • “Can I give you some positive feedback?” 
  • “When would be a good time to discuss some feedback?” 

2/ Start with specific situations 

The more specific, the better. Generalisations are harder to act on. Make it about the specific actions or behaviours of the receiver.

  • “You reorganised our brief into an issue tree with branches of connected questions.” 
  • “You synthesised information from various sources into a coherent story. Then suggested clear business actions.” 
  • “In your presentation you went into lots of detail about the advanced analysis.” 

3/ Describe the impact 

What was the impact of that behaviour? Importantly think this through at different levels; it could be about the impact on the business, on how the project ran, or on you as a person. All are valid.

  • “Now we can all see which questions are most commercially valuable to the business. It’s clear how to prioritise investment.” 
  • “We now have the evidence to build a case to do this. My boss is so pleased with our work on this.” 
  • “In our follow-up conversations with people who missed the actual presentation, they are obviously confused.” 

4/ Offer a suggestion 

Now you have the chance to explain how you would like things to be in the future. For positive feedback, you can ask for more of the same. For negative, you can suggest a change in behaviour that will result in a better impact. Use questions to explore possibilities and encourage discussion.

  • “Please can we apply that process to our next project?” 
  • “Where can we find more information about… to build in next time?” 
  • “Next time can we tell a simpler story without all the detail? Please give more help in the report.” 


Try it. See if you can create more opportunities to encourage what works and improve what doesn’t. And if you’re feeling brave, stick your neck out to ask for some feedback in return.

That’s a sign of a true partnership, striving for improvement together – what Incite aim for in our client relationships.

Looking back at my own feedback notes after a pause for reflection, of course there are some valuable tips. Time to discuss, playback and demonstrate commitment to improve.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” Kim Collins, 100m World Champion 2003.

Click here to download Incite’s ‘Four steps to better feedback’ cheat sheet. 

And of course, if you have any questions, business challenges or feedback for us, please get in touch.