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  • Writer's pictureKaren Stern

Why feedback is out and advice is in

To my dismay, Adam Grant recently said in an interview that he’s not sure that giving feedback works.  When you ask for feedback you get a lot of useless information – the good stuff makes you complacent and bad can be demoralizing.   


My heart stopped.  He has ted-talked, written, blogged and podcasted about the importance of feedback. He is my feedback muse and we have built our training around some of his work. 


He then went on to say that we should ask for advice not feedback. 


I thought – okay, I can work with this. 

Women sitting on chairs facing each other.
Photo by RDNE Stock project

Why is advice better?

Research reported in Harvard Business Review suggests that feedback is often associated with evaluation where the givers focus too much on evaluating past actions.  This can feel personal (especially when communicated poorly).  Advice leads to a focus on future actions and the things that can be changed. 


When is advice better?

I like this idea – especially when I am the one initiating the conversation.  “Hey can you give me some advice” feels less vulnerable than asking for feedback which always feels personal.  But “can I give you some advice” still feels awkward to me with a team member. At the end of the day, these interactions all end up firing up the synapses in our brains in one way or another and research has shown that both the approach to the conversation and the language you use can have a significant impact on the recipients fight or flight response. 


What’s the best approach?

These conversations can be awkward, but they don’t have to be. Whether you are broaching the discussion by calling it advice or feedback there are some good best practices on how to approach the conversation.  Ideally you can fit the conversation into an existing 1:1, but either way the following approach is helpful:

  1. Prepare: See the steps below and do some prep before the meeting to capture your thoughts.

  2. The “micro yes”.  Start with a "micro yes" to grant the person agency in the discussion. Acknowledge that they might not be ready to engage immediately.

  3. Positive framing.  Frame the conversation positively, emphasizing your support and desire for their success.

  4. Start with reflection:  Begin with reflection, allowing the individual to share their thoughts on the situation.

  5. SBI:  The SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) approach created by Center of Creative Leadership is a good one and a great way to stay focused on behaviour and aligning with advice over feedback.  Be kind and be clear about what you want to see happen next time.

    1. Situation: Yesterday’s client meeting.

    2. Behaviour:  When describing behaviour try to think about what a video camera would have recorded.  Something like “the client asked the same question three times and each time a different answer was provided”.  It keeps you away from interpretation which might sound more like “you were unable to answer the client’s questions and have clearly lost your passion for this work”.

    3. Impact:  I worry that the client may be losing trust in us.

    4. Advice: In line with the concept of future oriented advice, suggest or brainstorm what they can do differently going forward.

  6. Further reflection and next steps:  Further reflecting on what happened can help to sort through what’s going on. Depending on the topic and the person – this may be a difficult conversation. Be prepared to control your emotions and allow for a break in the discussion. Ultimately focusing on future behaviour and moving on from the past.

Advice over feedback

The concept of advice  over feedback is a helpful one in focusing on the future and what can be changed while fostering growth and development within our teams. However, getting started with these conversations can be tough. Check out my other recent blog on “How to approach the dreaded conversation". I love this topic and would love to talk about it with you! Drop me a note.



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