Presentation: Baby Got Feedback: How to Give and Take Feedback Like A Boss

Track: Optimizing You: Human Skills for Individuals

Location: Pacific DEKJ

Duration: 2:55pm - 3:45pm

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Slides: Download Slides

Level: Intermediate

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What You’ll Learn


  1. Hear about the importance of providing and looking for feedback.
  2. Learn how to give positive, actionable feedback.
  3. Find out about the importance of providing feedback immediately, continuously, and empathetically.


Giving--and receiving--feedback is hard, especially when we perceive the feedback to be negative. We put it off, and then make the feedback conversation a bigger deal than originally intended. How can you avoid this pitfall and learn to be more comfortable with feedback? This talk uses empirical research, practical tips, and parodied song lyrics around how to be a better feedback receiver and become more effective in giving feedback.


What are you doing today?


I use data to make better people decisions. Generally, businesses are really good about being data-driven for anything that gets us revenue. But even really good companies are just now learning that using data for people can actually give them a strategic advantage.


What kind of questions do you answer?


I answer questions not just about basic reporting like "What is your organization look like?", "How many people are in each division?", "What's the turnover and churn?", but also more predictive questions like "Can we predict whether or not someone is going to leave?", "Can we can we identify better ways to change culture for individuals?", or "How could we make more meaningful work for people in the organization?".


Tell me about the motivation for your talk.


People suck at giving feedback. People suck at taking it, and they suck even more at giving it. There seems to be, across every domain--not just technology or software--this reticence to have a vulnerable conversation about performance, behavior, or attitude. Welcoming that feedback actually makes you a better person, as well as a better feedback giver.


Can you give me an example of something you might talk about?


People typically wait too long to get feedback until all of a sudden it results into this larger sit-down conversation that happens at an annual performance review about some behavior that happened four months ago. That results in a whole bunch of bad habits--not just for the manager giving that feedback, but the employee receiving it starts assuming that manager has been holding it against them for the past four months. When you change that behavior and start giving more consistent continuous feedback, you can start trading really small bits of feedback that can change behavior a lot quicker.


How do you balance a continual shoulder tapping with the need of getting the message through?


The feedback shouldn't all be negative! There should be positive feedback as part of the continuous feedback loop, both given and received, and include a specific instance. For example, "Hey Wes, when you sent that e-mail, it came across as terse and the response that we got from the other team was more negative than intended. Next time, here's how I'd tweak it." Super short, very straightforward, very easy. The feedback doesn’t imply the receiver is a bad person, just that the action requires a slight change. And it's not four months down the line implying it always happens, it’s immediate.


Who are you talking to?


I'm zeroing in on team members specifically, not just managers. Managers need to hear this as well, but I think that we typically rely on those who are above us to be able to give us that feedback. In reality, we as people trying to become better employees and better people, in general, should be able to ask for and provide feedback in a manner that then sets the space for open communication. If it's only the managers who are having that conversation, you're relying on that manager to set the tone for the whole team. But if you can start modeling that behavior to your teammates and your manager as well, all of a sudden you have this great team culture of people who can provide quality feedback that doesn’t hurt feelings and helps the team be productive.

Speaker: Sarah Hagan

Research Manager & Data Scientist, People Analytics @gatesfoundation

Sarah Hagan, Ph.D. is the Research Manager of the People Analytics team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation using analytics and behavioral psychology to understand employees and make work better. She works across BMGF’s People Operations teams to bring data to people practices and ensure they're making the best decisions about employees. Before that, she worked at Redfin and Nordstrom conducting research and designing employee programs to continuously improve culture, leadership, and work environment. Prior to industry, Sarah spent a decade in academia researching personality, human behavior, and emotional regulation, and has a bunch of publications that she's pretty sure have only been read by her mom.

Find Sarah Hagan at