Knowing how to give and receive feedback during conflict situations is a very important skill. When employees handle feedback effectively, it can foster a culture where disagreements are handled openly and directly. Communicating honestly, while also being sensitive, is key.

As a conflict coach or consultant, one of your jobs is to help talented managers and individual contributors learn how to manage conflict more effectively, move into more demanding roles, or prepare for future career growth. Whether you use assessment instruments such as the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) or other evaluations, it’s important that your clients understand the basics of how to give effective feedback during conflict situations as well as how to receive it. These tips for both giving and receiving feedback will help lessen the tension brought on by conflict and boost the chance of positive change.

Giving Effective Feedback


  • Conflict is prevalent in the workplace.

  • Knowing how to give effective feedback to colleagues about conflict issues helps lessen the tension.

  • Effective feedback fosters a culture where disagreements are handled openly and directly.

The following tips are good for team members and/or managers to keep in mind when giving feedback:

Ask permission. Saying “May I share an observation with you?” sets the right tone for a conversation. Most people won’t decline, and asking ahead of time can lessen the chance of the person immediately becoming defensive.

Be specific. Do your best to give specific examples of concrete behaviors rather than general, sweeping statements. Focus on a particular incident or observation, and refrain from using vague, catch phrases (“You did a great job in handling that dispute.”). If your goal is to have someone repeat an effective behavior (or not repeat an unproductive behavior), he or she needs to know exactly what you have in mind.

Describe actions rather than judge individuals. The Center for Creative Leadership endorses the SBI model (Situation, Behavior, Impact). With this technique, you tell the situation, you describe the behaviors you observed, and you explain the impact that the behavior had on you.

Compare “You are too abrasive” to “This morning during the marketing meeting you spoke in a loud voice and interrupted me several times. When I tried to give an opinion, you rolled your eyes and changed the subject. I felt frustrated and ignored.”

Avoid interpreting someone’s behavior or making assumptions about their motivation for acting a certain way. Don’t presume you know what the other person intended; just describe the behavior and the impact.

Don’t exaggerate. Sometimes, in order to get a point across, people will exaggerate and use terms such as “always” and “never.” Using these words can often put the other person in a defensive stance, so from that moment on, they quit listening and focus on formulating a comeback.

Give feedback that is timely and ongoing. Why wait until a formal performance appraisal to give feedback? Offer information as soon as it is reasonably possible so that the incident is fresh in people’s minds, and the impact on performance is greatest. Show by example that your organization is one that supports and encourages the open exchange of feedback.

Balance your message. It is essential to acknowledge, and celebrate, positive feedback. People grow by capitalizing on their strengths as well as working on developmental areas. Be careful, though, not to “sandwich” negative feedback between two positive communications. Realize that there is a big difference between feedback and criticism. Constant criticism has the capacity to severely damage relationships; over time, your positive feedback should outweigh the negative.

Pay attention to your delivery. Being honest is good, but be sure to be compassionate and caring at the same time. Take into account each individual situation, and realize that people process information differently. Be clear and concise, and keep your advice to a minimum unless specifically asked.

Remember how valuable feedback can be. Sometimes it’s tough to tell people something they might not want to hear. What if they get mad? What if they cry? Will there be repercussions of some kind? Always remember that the insight and perspectives of others has the potential to help us–to help us grow and develop into more successful people or into the people we want to be. Effective feedback helps us see things we might not be able to see on our own, and, in that respect, is vital to our personal and professional development.

Receiving Conflict Feedback

Equally important as knowing how to give effective feedback during conflict situations, is knowing how to receive feedback. Below are guidelines for receiving feedback that boost the chance for positive change.

Seek feedback on an ongoing basis. Exchanging information and monitoring your progress is not a one-time-only event. Whether you are in a new position or close to retirement, feedback from colleagues is very valuable, but actually asking for it is often the first step.

Listen carefully. Effective listening is crucial, especially if you want to get more feedback as you advance in your career. Try not to be defensive, and don’t interrupt, even if you disagree with what you are hearing. Don’t use the time to give explanations as to why you do something a particular way. Say “right,” “uuummmmm,” and “ok” and avoid statements such as “I didn’t do that” or “Well, the reason I had to do it that way was because….” Remember that acknowledging the feedback isn’t the same as agreeing with it.

Make sure you understand. Ask for specific examples. Paraphrase what was said in your own words:

“So you’re saying that …,”
“What I’m hearing is …,”
“I sense that …”

Before you leave the conversation, summarize the feedback in a way that the other person is satisfied you fully understood the issues.

Thank the giver of the feedback. Giving feedback in a constructive manner is difficult for some people. Letting the other person know how much you appreciate him/her taking the time to take the matter seriously demonstrates that you are receptive to feedback from others and increases the likelihood that you’ll receive more in the future.

Reflect. Feedback from colleagues can evoke all kinds of emotions. Give yourself time to think about and reflect on the feedback. It’s not always necessary to respond immediately. “Sleeping on it” for a night and reviewing it with a fresh perspective the next day can be helpful.

Evaluate. Is this feedback an isolated incident, or does it fit into a pattern? Have other people told you the same thing? Do you agree with the feedback? Are you willing to change this behavior? What will it take to make those changes?

Look forward. Share your developmental areas with your colleagues, and try to cultivate an atmosphere of open, honest feedback by encouraging them to give you ongoing feedback on those issues. Tell them you want to know if and when they see improvement. Let them be a “partner” in your ongoing development plan so you’ll be more aware of what you’re doing well and what still needs work. It’s important, especially if you’re the boss, to demonstrate that giving and receiving feedback is just common practice at your organization, and everyone is invited to participate and support one another.

Communicating effectively during conflict requires good listening skills, honesty, and a whole lot of finesse. Whether you are giving feedback to others, receiving it yourself, or helping others to do the same, these tips can be invaluable to paving the way for a more successful outcome.