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The Art of Giving Feedback…Even When You Don’t Want To

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

You need to give feedback. No matter your title, your role, or if you even think of yourself as a leader, it is imperative to give feedback. And not to avoid it because it’s hard.

I often hear my clients saying, “I just want to practice law! Do I really need to do all this other stuff?”

The short answer is No. The right answer is Yes. Growing as a professional, and as a human, you need to tell people what’s going well and what needs to improve.

CWBA President Miranda Hawkins set a focused theme for 2020-201 of Lead Beyond. To lead beyond the abnormal times of 2020, it is particularly essential to give feedback. And during times of quarantine where you may not be able to give feedback in person, it is even more crucial to give feedback that is heard.

At the June 2020 CWBA Board Meeting, we discussed the art of giving feedback and the importance it plays throughout our lives. Feedback is not only critical when something has gone wrong. In fact, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 69% of employees work harder when efforts are better recognized. The easiest way to recognize these efforts is to give impactful feedback.

I recommend four steps to give effective feedback to start the conversation:

1. Situation. Explain when you noticed the behavior, work, action, etc.
2. Behavior. Describe the behavior, work, or action you observed. Keep it factual.
3. Impact. Describe the impact on you. Be careful to use ‘I’ and not ‘we’, which could cause someone to be defensive.
PAUSE. This is important to allow the information to sink in.
4. Request. Make a request of what you would like to see instead.

Remember, these four steps are the start of the conversation and an opportunity to learn more about your colleague.

Feedback is both constructive and positive. Be honest — when you hear the words, "Can I give you some feedback?’" do you automatically assume the worst? The most effective way to encourage a colleague to continue doing great things is to recognize it. Don’t make the mistake of only giving constructive feedback.

To make feedback even more effective, I recommend tailoring it according to your audience’s Emergenetics Profile, which the Board and I delved into at their April Retreat. When you understand how your audience thinks and behaves, which the Emergenetics Profile reveals, the more powerful and impactful your feedback is.

Consider the Seven Attributes of Emergenetics. As you read through this, where do you think your colleagues, clients, family, and friends fall?

Now, when we consider how each attribute needs to hear feedback, remember when giving feedback those with an:

Analytical preference needs to hear accurate information, share evidence to warrant the feedback, be direct and get to the point.

Structural preference needs to hear timely feedback, follow-up by sharing in writing, and establish an action plan for moving forward.

Social preference needs you to consider their feelings, to understand the impact of the feedback on her relationships, and support her reaction.

Conceptual preference needs to hear the impact of feedback on their future and broader vision, align feedback with totality of their work, and discuss new opportunities and brainstorm solutions.

I gave the Board the challenge to find an opportunity to give feedback every day. Bonus points for giving positive feedback! Human brains have a negativity bias, which makes it vital to step out of your comfort zone and look for the positive.


Julie Holunga is a leadership trainer and coach who trains and develops attorneys, CPAs, and business leaders, with an expertise in the careers of female professionals. Her trainings inspire driven professionals to lead with influence and authority. Through her proven frameworks, Julie shows her clients how to concretely build their careers while raising their internal and external visibility. Success for Julie’s clients comes in more productive work relationships, effective communication strategies, advancement, refined leadership qualities, and heightened confidence when navigating their career paths.

Julie’s career has always involved coaching a diverse group of high-level individuals looking to impact change. At The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, she worked with senior leaders at Fortune 500 corporations to develop, implement, and improve corporate citizenship initiatives. Following her work at The Center, Julie served as the project manager for Alumni Career Services at Harvard Business School focusing on the careers of alumnae. She built relationships with leaders at Wall Street firms leading the efforts to advance women into positions of leadership and advised alumni in career transition. Julie started her career working at Harvard University in the Capital Gifts group, assisting high-net worth alumni impact change.

Julie received her bachelor’s degree in French Literature and Economics at Union College, and her MBA from Boston College. She spent seven years living and attending school in France, India, and Hong Kong. Julie and her family moved from Boston to Calgary, Canada and are now settled in Denver. In her spare time, Julie skis and hikes with her dog in the foothills of Denver and can be found most weekends at a hockey rink watching her kids play.

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