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Why Feedback Is Like Sex

Feedback is like sex. Everybody does it but few do it well.

By Gustavo Razzetti

March 1, 2019

Everyone does it, but few do it well

How often do you do it?

Feedback is like sex — everyone wants more. A large majority considers that feedback is valuable. And they want to practice it more often. Nearly 60% of employees would like to receive it more frequently — on a daily or weekly basis.

But, just like sex, there’s a difference between doing it and doing it well. Here’s why.

We assume the other person wants it, too

That you desire something, doesn’t mean the other person wants it as well.

Falling into the temptation is easy. An employee ‘wants to talk’ and we immediately think s/he is looking for feedback. Either because we want to help, share our experience, or simply look smart. However, unsolicited feedback doesn’t help — it pleases the giver more than the receiver.

Sometimes people just want to talk — either they need to blow steam, share something, or think out loud. In most cases, when people say they want to talk to you is because they want to do the talking. Your role is to listen, not to take over.

Before taking the initiative, read the signs. What does the other person really want?

Unsolicited feedback — no matter how good — is useless. Advice only works in one case: when someone asks for it. Sure, companies need to provide employees with input to help them improve. But, creating the right condition is the difference between making an impact or wasting your words of wisdom.

Next time someone wants to talk to you, clarify expectations. “How can I help you?” “What are you looking for?” “What do you expect from me?”

Being a sounding board provides perspective — listening can be more effective than any advice.

Feedback should happen only when both parties consent to it.

We forget it’s about pleasing others, too

Feedback is about developing a relationship between you and your team members — it should please both sides.

I see this behavior a lot when coaching teams. Most organizations don’t practice giving feedback as often as they should. So, when the time comes, managers want to let it all out — feedback becomes torture, instead of a gift. They address incidents that happened months ago — that no one else remembers — turning the experience into a negative one.

That’s why most employees hate performance reviews — they are meant to please the organization, not the employee.

The Giver focuses on saying anything. It feels more like a catharsis — to let go of their frustrations. They forget that feedback is not about making the giver feel good; it’s about helping the receiver improve.

Feedback is useless if it doesn’t please both parties.

We focus on unmet expectations

One disappointing experience can stall a relationship — especially when based on unrealistic expectations. Rather than pushing people to be perfect, feedback should help them to give their best.

Perfectionism is the enemy of growth and experimentation. Is your feedback helping your team improve? Or are unrealistic expectations hindering their performance?

Research shows that learning is less about adding something and more about appreciating what people already have — we recognize, reinforce, and reinforce what already is.

There are two reasons for this. First, neurologically, we grow more in our areas of greater abilities. Second, getting attention to our strengths from other people boosts learning; attention to our weaknesses hinders it.

Feedback should inspire your teammates and bring the best out of them.

We are not fully present

Most managers get stuck in a bad experience. They had a good memory for an incident that happened two weeks or ten months ago. To create a positive impact, focus on what people can change, not on their past mistakes.

Feedback should help design a better future, rather than rehash the past — its purpose is to develop people, not assess them. Actually, science shows that we are unreliable raters, especially when it comes to humans.

Spotify avoids getting stuck in the past by using a 70–20–10 approach — they address the future, the now, and the past.

Instead of putting too much emphasis on what happened, Spotify’s developmental talks focus 70% of the time on discussing the future, 20% on the present, and just 10% on the past.

Twice a year, managers and employees at Spotify have development talks — they prioritize helping people grow over appraising them. Rehashing a bad experience won’t help people change. Instead, focus on what they can improve: the present.

Effective feedback helps your team move forward rather than getting stuck in the past.

We compete with our partners

Usually, managers try to show they are smarter and more experienced than their ‘subordinates.’ Most don’t do it on purpose, but they can’t avoid it either.

Research shows that many bosses bully high performers — they unconsciously see them as a threat to their authority. Managers that tend to be dominant use harsh feedback to keep high performers under control.

Feedback is not a competition — it’s about bringing out the best, not the worst of your team members. Don’t rehash mistakes to harm their confidence. Avoid sharing your success stories to make others feel inferior. Focus on the lessons. Help your team turn mistakes into a learning experience.

Positive feedback requires coaching people as equals; not lecturing them from a place of superiority.

We don’t reciprocate

In most organizations, feedback is used by managers to help their teams improve. That usually creates a divide — bosses know how to do things, but employees must improve.

Wise leaders don’t just challenge their people — they want to be challenged by them too.

At Pixar, they build a “Braintrust” composed by directors, writers, and storytellers to discuss every film. This process helps develop great ideas and keep each other in check. The team is in it together. Feedback is not a top-down approach — everyone gives and receives it too.

Pixar’s Brainstrusts promote candor, honesty, but also mutual respect. You are delivering feedback to your colleagues — you want them to thrive. As Matthew Luhn said, “When you’re giving honest feedback with candor and respect it’s going to help the whole company.”

Collective feedback helps people grow as one — it breaks down the barrier between ‘my way’ and ‘your way.’

We don’t practice it regularly

Practice makes perfect. But, also destigmatizes feedback — it turns it into a more natural experience.

Research shows that most people hate performance reviews. They think they don’t happen too often, that they are a waste of time, or that the approach is judgmental, not constructive.

A culture of ongoing feedback not only helps address tensions before they get out of control — people can course-correct immediately. As Warby Parker co-CEO Neil Blumenthal said: “I joke that feedback is a gift; it’s the opposite of revenge — it’s best served hot.”

Marshall Goldsmith, the founder of the namesake coaching firm, is a perfect example of the power of regular feedback. Every night, a friend calls him to ask him 22 questions. This process helps Goldsmith reflect if he’s honest with himself, if he is doing his best, and identify areas for growth.

Frequent team feedback builds a culture of continuous improvement — people feel they are having a dialogue rather than being evaluated or reviewed.


Just like sex, feedback should please both parties. It should help move the relationship forward rather than getting stuck on unmet expectations. Judging people’s performance doesn’t help them excel.

Providing feedback can be an unforgettable experience — let’s not turn it into a disappointing one.

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