Where Do You Stand on the Feedback Staircase?

Tenacity in the Balance
March 10, 2014
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March 24, 2014

Great leaders understand that if they want their employees to improve, they have to give each one honest, direct, and timely feedback. And the same goes for leaders. To improve, you have to seek out and welcome feedback from your manager, your peers, and your employees.

steps-infinity_changeIn my paper Breakfast of Champions, I offer steps to take to improve the way you receive feedback. Here I’d like to take you step by step through each step on what I call the Feedback Staircase.

As illustrated below, the process of developing the most beneficial response to constructive feedback works like a staircase. Going through the steps will help you recognize how you handle feedback as well as give you an idea of where your employees stand by the kind of responses they give to your feedback.

Step 1: Deny

Even the best feedback—direct, specific, realistic, non-judgmental and related to set goals—will meet with denial. From outright “No, I didn’t…” to evasions and dismissals of the issue you’ve raised.

Step 2: Defend

Coaching can help you and your employees to understand the futility of denial. But it will take even more careful coaching to get past the most common response to unexpected and unwelcome feedback, “Wait, I can explain…” and “It’s not like that…” and “I had to because…”

Step 3: Explain

Not much better are attempts to explain. A step above defending, explaining still prevents the recipient of feedback move toward change. Steps 1 through 3 deflect the gift of feedback. They disassociate the recipient from potential improvement, as if they were witnessing feedback being given to someone else. If you do not accept what you hear, how can you use it to change for the better?

Step 4: Understand

Now you’re starting to get somewhere. With questions like “What could I do even better next time?” and “What is the impact on the organization of doing what I did it?” and “Help me develop a plan to change this kind of behavior” Such reactions, free from censorship or defense, leave you or your employee open to change.

Step 5: Change

On this final plateau, you are finally ready, willing, and able to change. No more wasting time framing response in your mind other than to clarify the feedback. All your energy can go toward listening carefully and making plans to change.


If you need help climbing the Feedback Staircase, or if you have leaders or employees who need assistance, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at 972-608-0400. Or shoot me an email at info@align4profit.com.


Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.