How to Give Feedback with EQ and Empathy

Remember these tips when delivering constructive feedback with emotional intelligence and empathy.
By Matt Hoffman, Tania Luna

Last Updated: March 17, 2021

Published: March 16, 2021


Feedback can be tricky to both give and receive, but we can’t improve ourselves, our businesses, or our companies without it. It’s part of what makes a healthy and engaging organizational culture. 

Although there’s something to be said for systematizing suggestions and feedback via something like a suggestion box, it’s no substitute for direct feedback.

But how do we navigate giving constructive feedback? It’s important to remember that those intangibles the soft skills such as empathy and listening that play into emotional intelligence (EQ) are critical when creating a productive feedback loop.

In a workshop for early-stage founders at our recent Future Perfect virtual event, M13 Partner and Head of Talent Matt Hoffman and LifeLabs Learning Co-CEO Tania Luna teamed up to demonstrate how to deliver good (and bad) feedback. Keep these tips in mind the next time you find yourself needing to deliver feedback: 

1. Practice makes perfect 

As Matt says, “One of the best ways we know how to drive healthy and high performing teams is by creating a strong culture around feedback.” 

Making feedback a regular part of the workflow is crucial, but so is recognizing the importance of all the seemingly intangible skills that go into that learning process. You get better if you actually practice your ability to both give and receive feedback in a constructive, productive way that respects all parties involved. 

It’s a skill but it’s also how that skill is used and implemented that makes a difference between good and bad feedback.

2. Ask a question

“At LifeLabs Learning, when we studied what great feedback givers did differently, we noticed that they usually started their feedback conversations with a question,” Tania says. “A question is a way to prepare the person's brain for the conversation to reduce the uncertainty and to signal, ‘Hey, this isn't just me bombarding you with information. This is going to be a two-way conversation.’”

Sample question: “I have some feedback for you on X. Is now a good time to share it with you?”

3. Describe a specific behavior 

Feedback needs to point to clear, specific behaviors to make learning possible. “Blurry feedback is feedback that could mean different things to different people,” Tania says. If it’s not clear what the issue is, it’s hard to know what the person should work on to improve.

Sample behavior statement: “I noticed that you did Y during the meeting this morning.”

Remember: You need to dial down into specifics. What’s the specific behavior that you’re addressing in your feedback?

Pro tip

Avoid the ever-popular feedback sandwich technique (critical feedback wedged between two positive pieces of feedback). This type of feedback is confusing at best and erodes trust at worst.


4. Explain the impact

Context is everything. “Why does this matter? Why should the person consider applying your feedback?” Tania says.

It’s one thing to tell someone, “Hey, I noticed you talked over other people in the meeting.” It’s another thing to explain, with empathy and positive intent (using EQ skills), that interruptions make it difficult for other people to be heard and feel valued. 

To go one step further, tailor your impact statement to the individual’s values and interests. “Really skillful feedback is about naming impact that this person is going to care about. Maybe it's the impact on me. Maybe it's the impact on our users or on the team,” says Tania.

Sample impact statement: “I mention it because Z.”

5. Ask again

For maximum learning, alignment, and relationship building, wrap up your feedback with a question to hear their perspective. This opens the door for communication with the person receiving the feedback. 

“It actually turns feedback into a discussion,” Matt says. “Understanding where people are coming from and understanding our context makes feedback much more real and much more impactful.” 

And once we understand all those factors, we can improve. 

Sample questions:

“How did that land with you?”

“What are your thoughts?”

Want an easy way to remember the four essential parts of a great piece of feedback? Use the Q-BIQ Method that LifeLabs Learning teaches in their Feedback Skills workshops (pronounced cubic since effective feedback expands your team’s capacity):

Q: question

B: behavior

I: impact

Q: question

When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, we also heard more helpful tips from founders and other leaders who spoke at our Future Perfect: Wellness event:  

Embrace your EQ. Developing your emotional intelligence can make workplace interactions including the feedback process go so much more smoothly. 

It’s the ability to not only understand your own emotions, but also the ability to understand other people’s emotions.

Darja Gutnick, Co-founder and CEO, Bunch

Be flexible. Elevating your EQ helps with feedback goes beyond just emotions. Everyone’s style may be different; you need to be able to read the room.

It’s recognizing how you lead and communicate and what comes naturally to you, and adapting that style to the person you’re trying to communicate with.

Spencer Rascoff, Co-founder, Pacaso

Words matter. You may find yourself in a situation sometimes when you have to “manage up” with your boss, a situation that’s even trickier right now because of the nature of remote working. 

“If you can embrace curiosity and ask good questions about why a leader may be doing something while they’re doing it, no matter how you package it, it comes down to how you manage yourself and manage others. Words really create worlds. And we have the ability to choose words to change my neurochemistry or your neurochemistry in real time.

If we have the ability to use our words to downregulate the frustration, the anxiety, and the fear, we will be better able to connect.” Deborah Goldstein, Founder, Driven Professionals

For more feedback tools, check out these resources from LifeLabs Learning:

Tune into Matt and Tania's Future Perfect feedback session:

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