Helpful feedback: Give it. Receive it. Encourage it.

By Cheryl Meyer

Giving and receiving feedback, especially in a business setting, can make people feel uncomfortable. Recipients may fear the worst and can become defensive or offended, and givers of feedback can make the situation worse by not paying enough attention to their delivery.

“Feedback has such a negative connotation. Nobody likes to give it or receive it,” said Lori Liddell, CPA/ABV, a shareholder at Liddell CPA PLLC and an instructor of accounting at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.

Recipients of feedback are most likely to cringe because “it’s our nature to hear something and take it the wrong way, so our guard is immediately up,” Liddell said.

The topic hit a nerve, she said, after some students and mentees came to her, struggling with how to give or accept critiques. She also was inspired by the book Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, and has since taken an ardent interest in helping others navigate the murky feedback waters.

Liddell will address the topic in the session “Courageous Feedback: Give It, Receive It, Encourage It” on July 29 at the AICPA & CIMA 2021 ENGAGE conference. During her presentation, she will discuss the difficulties of giving and receiving assessments and the communication breakdown that can occur as it relates to counsel and criticism.

Liddell defines “feedback” as “being able to give someone advice or an opinion on how things are going well and how things could be better.” While that sounds simple, many hiccups can occur during the process.

For starters, supervisors often give critiques just once or twice a year, so when the time comes to provide feedback, emotions can run high, especially when a solid relationship has not been built between giver and receiver.

In addition, she said, those giving and receiving feedback often have “blind spots” when it comes to themselves and how they deliver or receive the message. “Some blind spots include facial expressions — overly thinking with our faces or our tone. Sometimes it’s not what we’re saying but how we’re saying it,” Liddell said. “And sometimes we don’t realize that others see our behaviors as systemic.”

Recipients may automatically get their hackles up if any critique is given, or they may fail to separate what’s being said from the person offering opinions about their performance. Many recipients don’t take time to understand the feedback giver’s role in the process. In other words, if your boss is offering an assessment — negative or positive — about something you have done, it’s important to know his or her role in making things better. Mix that with people’s personalities and temperaments, and the feedback course can go sideways quickly.

At ENGAGE, Liddell will also offer tips on improving the feedback process. Here are a few she has highlighted:

Understand communication styles. Some people, like Liddell, are straight shooters. Others prefer sunshine mixed with rainbows, she said. So, before you give feedback, understand the recipient and their personality and how best to communicate any advice or opinions.

Listen and learn. Those accepting feedback need to truly focus on what is being said, not on who is giving the advice. “Whatever [the feedback giver] is saying, there is some truth to that,” Liddell said. Also, remember that feedback can be a growth experience for both the giver and the receiver.

Encourage feedback in others. Feedback can often be considered “taboo” and yet may be necessary to help people improve. To get past this negative image, do your part to make feedback more positive and mainstream. For instance, if your colleague is complaining at the coffee pot about Joe, ask your colleague, “If you could tell Joe how to do this better, what would you say?” Or, nicely pose a question to a supervisor or colleague if something seems off, which is a roundabout way of giving feedback. For example, “Do you think it was right for us to say that five plus five equals nine?” Liddell said jokingly.

Be genuine. When giving feedback, be real and “come from a good place,” she said. “Presenting our authentic selves is most important when giving and receiving feedback.”

Establish relationships early, before feedback is given. It behooves managers to get to know their employees prior to any formal feedback session. Chat at the water cooler, go out to lunch, or stop by employees’ desks to compliment them on their work now and then. “Have a relationship with someone so they don’t necessarily associate you with bad news,” Liddell said.

Editor’s note: AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 2021, the premier event for accounting and finance professionals, will be a hybrid event this year. Join us at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas or online, July 26–29, for keynotes and sessions on accounting and auditing, tax, technology, leadership, personal financial planning, diversity, equity, inclusion, and more. Keynotes with Sir Richard Branson and NASA’s Adam Steltzner will be held online on June 8.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA’s editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.

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