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Skills that make good feedback

Read this article about skills that make good feedback.
© University of Southern Queensland

Personal skills are abilities that are developed through practise. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill. And like all skills, it takes practise to get it right.

Key skills in giving and receiving feedback: summarising, being concise, being comfortable with silence

Key skills that assist in giving and receiving good feedback include summarising, being concise and being comfortable with silence.


Summarising involves listening to what is being said then relaying that information back concisely and in a way that is meaningful to the person receiving the feedback. This can involve restating:

  • Key aspects of the feedback discussion
  • The outcome of the feedback
  • Any follow up action that is required
  • Any review date and time follow-up

Here are some examples of sentence starters that can be used when summarising what has been said. The three major issues you raised were… or To summarise then……

Being concise

Being concise focuses on what is important so that the feedback is communicated clearly and efficiently. It eliminates jargon and conveys information in a clear, simple way that gets the message across. Conciseness reduces confusion and misunderstandings that a feedback receiver may have. This assists the recipient to clearly understand the feedback message (1).

When giving feedback get to the point quickly and avoid being vague, circling the point or hinting at things. Being concise forces you to focus and the more focused you are the better your chances are of getting your feedback across. Be sure to define exactly what you want people to understand and what, if anything, you’re asking them to do.

Being comfortable with silence

Silence is the absence of intentional sound, or a purposeful quiet. For many people silence can be rather unsettling. Research in Europe found that when silence in a conversation is stretched to four seconds, people started to feel uncomfortable (2). In contrast, a separate study of business meetings found that Japanese people were very comfortable and happy with silences of 8.2 seconds (2). Various cultures then differ in their comfort with silence (3).

What is your tolerance of silence? How long can you wait before filling the silence? Explore this in your next conversation.

Why is silence useful in giving and receiving feedback?

Silence provides space for decision making. It allows space to consider what happens next. Confusion can become clarity when you don’t rush to fill the space with words (4). Silence can be a powerful feedback tool particularly when giving or receiving negative or constructive feedback. Giving a moment of silence allows a person to get beyond the emotional response and to start thinking about what has been said (4).

Silences are desirable when giving or receiving feedback as they create a space and time for a person to reflect quietly without interruption (5). It is also worth noting that many introverted thinkers need the silence in order to think and will often take time to formulate a response. When giving feedback encourage the person to take their time to think through any replies. Try not to feel uncomfortable about silences. However, be aware that silence may make people feel very uncomfortable.

How to be comfortable with silence

  • Remind yourself that silence has a purpose in all conversations
  • Be calm and relaxed to make silence more comfortable

    Constant talk won’t save a feedback conversation however silence can. Many of us instinctively want to fill in the gaps in conversations, especially the unpleasant ones. This is natural but not always helpful. If you need help to manage the silence, try counting to yourself. Often by the time you get to five or six the other person will have spoken.

  • Learn how to get out of silence

    If the silence gets to around 45 seconds, try using a prompt like ‘Should we come back to this after you’ve had some time to think about it?’ or ‘What I have said seems to have made you uncomfortable’. More often than not this will prompt a response from the other person.

  • Practise waiting 2 or 3 seconds after someone’s stopped talking before responding

    Doing this sends the message that you are actually listening to what the other person is saying, rather than just biding your time until it’s your turn to speak (4). People often say more when you say less and when you give them space to talk. This silence will also help to get others beyond any knee-jerk emotional responses and into their rational mind (2).

  • Avoid filler sounds

    Words aren’t the only way to fill silence. Nonverbal sounds like Ehhh, Errr, Umm and Huh just add to the awkwardness.

  • Stop yourself from viewing silence as a failure or a sign of a problem

    Silence is simply an opportunity to pause, reflect, and gather thoughts.

Being comfortable with silence can be one of the hardest skills to learn. It goes against our instincts. We tend to want to fill in the blanks. Learning how to embrace silence, rather than fight against it is enormously empowering, to say nothing of its positive affect on our well-being.

1. Stone D, Heen S. Thanks for the feedback: the science and art of receiving feedback well. California: Corwin; 2014. 368 p.
2. Morrison L. The subtle power of uncomfortable silences [internet]. London: British Broadcating Corporation; 2017 July 19 (revised 2022) [cited 2022 Sept 10]. Available from:
3. Ibrahim B, Muhammad U A. The most powerful thing you’d say is nothing at all: the power of silence in conversation. In: Jiang X, editor. Types of nonverbal communication [internet]. London: Intech Open; 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 10]. Available from:
4. DeMarco M. J. Being comfortable with silence is a superpower: the fascinating science of silence and why it’s healthier to embrace it than fight it [internet]. Forge; 2021 Jul 30 [cited 2022 Sep 10]. Available from:
5. Van Nieuwerburgh C. An introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide. 3rd edition. London: Sage; 2021. 240 p.
© University of Southern Queensland
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A Beginner’s Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback

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