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Feedback: The Art Is in the Delivery

Lisa J. Hunter, MSW, LSW, Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Jane R. Shaw, DVM, PhD, Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

October 2018|Peer Reviewed

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Feedback: The Art Is in the Delivery

The importance of feedback for personal and professional growth is universally recognized, yet the word feedback generally has a negative connotation.1 Feedback is not intended to be a litany of wrongs that makes it difficult to give and uncomfortable to receive—it is simply information about a person’s performance of a task that can be used as a basis for improvement.2

The Art of Delivery


Feedback, given properly, can be used to motivate, assess, evaluate, compare, educate, and align expectations toward growth. Those providing feedback face 3 main challenges:

  • Too much information: In an age of texts, tweets, likes, and swipes, too many people are willing to give copious feedback. This barrage of information can be overwhelming and can cause individuals to stop listening and ignore advice that could be helpful.
  • As a reaction: Feedback given in a reactionary state (eg, out of anger or frustration, during a conflict, as venting) can harm the person on the receiving end.
  • Vague and obtuse: Long-winded circuitous feedback that does not hit its target can cause confusion and frustration.

How to Give Effective Feedback

  • Be descriptive, detailed, concrete, and specific.
  • Be useful and realistic.
  • Check on how feedback is being received.
  • Focus on behaviors.
  • Integrate feedback into everyday conversations.
  • Link to outcomes.
  • Offer support and mentorship.
  • Share information.
  • Suggest alternative ideas.
  • Use and and what if to enhance positivity.

Tools are available to help deliver effective feedback that is more likely to be heard and acted upon.3 (See Resource and How to Give Effective Feedback.)

  • Integrate feedback into everyday conversations. Feedback is often perceived as a consequence of underperformance,4 but giving feedback in the moment creates a running dialogue and opens effective channels for continued communication.5

If you have a moment, I would love to chat about a few things I have observed.

  • Limit feedback to what is useful and realistic. Prioritize sharing only the most pertinent points. Overloading the recipient reduces the possibility that the feedback will be well-received and put into practice. 

For today, let’s discuss techniques for getting appointments off to a strong start, to enhance client and patient comfort.

  • Give feedback that is descriptive, detailed, concrete, and specific. 

I noticed when you first entered the examination room that your introduction was rushed, and the client got cut off and did not have a chance to introduce himself.

  • Provide balanced feedback by including what worked well and suggestions for alternative approaches.

The client seemed to really appreciate the time you took to put her dog at ease before conducting the physical examination. You might also take your time introducing yourself to help the client feel more comfortable.

  • Link your feedback to outcomes (eg, to put his or her dog at ease, to help the client feel more comfortable).

By putting the patient at ease during the introduction, you got the visit off to the right start, which increases client satisfaction, saves time, and improves client adherence to our recommendations.

  • Use and and what if instead of but to deflect defensiveness and enhance the positive feedback provided.

I liked how you guided Mr. Allen, who was visibly crying, into an examination room to continue your discussion. What if we used that same approach with clients who are becoming agitated or upset?

  • Focus on behaviors and actions, not on personality traits, to emphasize the fact that the problem lies in what an individual does, not what kind of person he or she is. 

I sense that you feel rushed and are concerned about running late, and this can be off-putting to clients. So, to slow yourself down, you might take a deep breath before entering into the examination room.

  • Share information by using language that suggests rather than dictates. Giving advice can be interpreted as passing judgment or taking an evaluative stance (ie, you need to, you must, you should ). Sharing information empowers the recipient to choose his or her own course of action.

I am wondering if…

You might try…

One thing to consider is…

Something that works for me is…

  • Check on how the feedback is received (ie, chunk-and-check), which allows the sender to remain conscious of the recipient’s reaction and the next steps that may be needed to promote learning.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this feedback.

I am wondering how you are processing this information.

  • Offer continued support and mentorship. 

How can I support you in working on these skills?

What steps would you like to take together to move forward?

Communication Skills Training

29% of team training/CE in Well-Managed Practices is focused on building communication skills.

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants and Advanstar Publishing; 2016:53.


Take time to practice the art of giving effective feedback to improve reception of the information presented. Misunderstandings happen when feedback is vague, blurred, or indirect. Ensuring that feedback is specific, balanced, descriptive, focused on behavior, and limited helps it be heard and incorporated rather than deflected and dismissed.

Sharing Information is Vital

One of the most important indicators of a healthy culture is maintaining open communication channels. A common mistake for veterinary practice managers and owners is not sharing information across all levels of the practice.

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants and Advanstar Publishing; 2016:61.


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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