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  • Annapoorna Ravichander

How can we improve feedback?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021


According to a web definition feedback is a “Process in which the effect or output of an action is ‘returned’ (fed-back) to modify the next action”.

Typically, feedback is to provide an opinion, evaluate a task and help improve a task. It can either be positive or scope for improvement.

In the work of researchers in think tanks and research organisations it is important to establish a feedback mechanism during the course of a research and in the process of creating a publication. However, often many organisations find it difficult to include this act of providing feedback, this could be either, that they are not simply interested or perhaps because they do not have an appropriate person/system in place. Feedback should and can be received from diverse stakeholders, including decision makers, other research organisations anyone who means well for an organisation (see here).

In today’s world of continued change, including the need to grow professionally and to improve existing skills, it is important to receive and give feedback. Several studies indicate that feedback is effective and meaningful when it is timed well. For example, an editor requires to provide appropriate feedback to an author, during the course of writing an article or report; or a manager to a team member at the right time and at the right place. The effect of a feedback (positive or scope for improvement) will not have any meaning if it is provided way after an event has occurred. (see here and here)

What makes feedback a good one?

There are certain factors to be borne in mind while providing effective feedback:

Relevance & Timely: A feedback becomes relevant when it is provided/received at the right time. If a feedback is provided instantly then it has a value and is taken in the right spirit. For example, when a report/article submitted does not meet the expectations then it is better to say so immediately. Try to do this in a private manner, the recipient may then focus on what you are saying, rather than worry about what others are thinking. On the other hand, when a person makes a good presentation it will be relevant to mention the same (especially in front of an audience). Remember to provide feedback when events are still fresh in the recipient’s mind.

Explicit: A feedback is useful when it specifies/relates to a particular activity or goal. For example, it is useful when a feedback states that “you have done exceedingly well” rather than “you have done a good job”. This is especially important because it is accepted well. For example, avoid saying, you always do it wrong or all your documents are not good and interesting. Instead focus on an event and say the document you submitted this morning needs to be improved, or your presentation would have been more relevant if you had included xxx facts.

Style: A feedback provided in a positive manner is always welcomed. For example, ensure that the feedback is based on facts (agreed on), relevant, accurate and complete. Avoid using you could have done better; instead it is useful to say the report does not meet the expectations agreed by us, some information is not relevant and inaccurate. A positive feedback boosts the confidence of the recipients and there is a high chance that will continue to perform well, knowing very well that they are on the right track. Feedback can either be given orally or written. Sometimes body language also becomes an effective way of providing feedback. For example, a clap or a pat on the back can be a sign of appreciation, knitting of eyebrows, standing with folded hands can depict disagreement.


Sometimes a feedback session can go wrong and may not achieve the said target. The possible barriers could be:

  1. Inappropriate mode of communication

  2. Stereotypes

  3. Lack of confidence (especially a person who is giving feedback)

  4. Non-verbal communication-does not allow the seeing/observing reactions.

How can effective feedback lead to better results?

As defined earlier an effective feedback encourages a person to do better or helps a person identify flaws in their work, attitude, deliverables etc. There are several ways to ensure feedback is appropriate and effective:

  1. Focusing on the act rather than the person is important because no one should be judgemental. This approach helps in improving the quality of a task rather than deteorating the situation. For example, if a researcher submits a shoddy research paper, then focus on the paper by stating that the paper requires more information or is not accurate, rather than stating that you have not done a good job or your paper is shoddy.

  2. Clearly state the effect the act had on you rather than beating round the bush. Use the blame-free approach. For example, your feedback should be easy to understand and useful for the recipient.

  3. Be cautious while using words, especially, when feedback is given for scope for improvement. Often a feedback provided, leads to misunderstanding rather than addressing a situation. Clarity and brevity plays an important part in providing feedback. For example, “your attitude towards the guests was not appropriate” or “the conclusion drawn in your paper brought out some good points”.

  4. One of the most important aspects is to pick the right time. Ideally no one is ready to receive feedback. For example, a person who is angry will not accept a feedback even if it conveyed professionally and is important.

Receiving Feedback

Some key points to keep in mind when receiving feedback:

  1. Keep an open mind: This is where your listening skills come to the core. Don’t be in a hurry to respond or be defensive. (

  2. Use feedback provided as an act of self-improvement. Sometimes feedback becomes a part of a process in an organisation. It is only people who mean well, take the trouble and time to provide feedback.

  3. Understand why a feedback was given by a particular person. Most important listen to what is being said rather than just hearing it. Since feedback has been included in several processes in an organisation, it sometimes becomes an act of meaningless and monotonous routine/cycle that is followed, without any effect or meaning.

  4. Ensure that you also request for positive feedback, since it will certainly help you to understand feedback provided as scope for improvement.

Several research organisations/think tanks interact and work with different audiences. In the project management cycle stakeholder consultations or debriefing sessions are included as intervention platforms. This is a good opportunity, especially for organisations to share the progress of a project, key challenges etc. This is also probably a good opportunity to receive feedback/suggested solutions from key stakeholders, ranging from policy makers, to funders and consortium partners to name a few.


It is always good to understand that feedback (both receiving and giving) should be taken in the right spirit. It helps us to grow professionally and also makes us recognise areas of strength and areas for improvement.

In short, a good process of establishing a conducive feedback system is used as an effective tool in an organization it will help researchers to:

  1. Remain motivated

  2. Improve performance

  3. Helps people to be on track

  4. Assists people in knowing how people perceive their performance

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