The Collaborative Feedback Framework

There are dozens of feedback frameworks and tools out there about how to deliver a feedback conversation to make sure it’s effective. The Collaborative Feedback Framework focuses on collaboration, positioning feedback as a two-way dialogue and partnership, rather than a one-way conversation. When you deliver constructive feedback, you are coaching someone else to develop and grow. For most leaders I work with, constructive feedback does not come naturally, and therefore having a framework makes it easier.

The Collaborative Feedback Framework

The steps in this article and feedback framework will help you prepare for a feedback conversation so that it stays productive and calm. This framework is unique in that it highlights three key elements you’ll need to pay attention to when preparing to deliver candid feedback, including eight practical steps to approach it with care.

The Collaborative Feedback Framework: Courageous Communication with Candor and Care


The “ME”

It may sound counter intuitive to begin the preparation for a feedback conversation by focusing on yourself. After all, “the other person created the problem — or IS the problem here.” That’s what we usually tell ourselves and why we want to give them feedback in the first place.

But if you want to have a productive conversation where the other person learns, your relationship is strengthened, and action steps and ownership is clear going forward, you must begin with yourself.

1.  Center Yourself

Do a personal check-in – are you in a good state to have this conversation? You don’t want to have a difficult conversation when you are stressed or triggered. You want to give constructive feedback when you can remain even-keeled and neutral, rather than emotional or reactive.

Acknowledge any feelings you have about the feedback conversation, including any underlying fears that might be present. The most common obstacle to giving feedback is fear; the potential discomfort can be enough to avoid the feedback altogether. What fears might be present about this situation?

Ensure you are emotionally centered before initiating the conversation, and center yourself when needed along the way. You can always take a break to get yourself re-centered. This is the first step in the process, but you may need to revisit it along the way if you notice getting hijacked by stress.

Example: Try 10 slow, deep breaths, in and out through your nose to center yourself before the conversation.

2. Choose Your Mood or Mindset

Stress, emotions, and mindset go hand in hand, and all will impact how well the feedback conversation will go. Acknowledge your mood and attitude, and how it may be helping or hindering your communication. If you notice that your mind state is not supporting your ability to have a productive conversation, how can you shift it?

What mindset would help you be more effective as a communicator? What mood or attitude would be helpful for you to adopt going into the conversation to make it a productive one? Mindsets like curiosity, openness, humility, courage, and reflective tend to support conversations where there are differing opinions.

Example: Try on the mindset of curiosity. You will notice that it is impossible to be curious and judgmental at the same time, which can really help disarm the other person in the conversation.

The “WE”

It’s important to prioritize the relationship above the feedback or any associated tasks if you want the conversation to go smoothly. Make sure you are paying attention to the “We” and using the conversation to strengthen your relationship.

3. Get Clear on Your Goal, Ideal Outcome, or Intention

What is your “why,” or goal, for this conversation? What would you like to accomplish? What do you think the other person might want to gain from the conversation? What would be the goal for the shared relationship and organization? And where might there be common ground?

A goal or intention could be for yourself, the other person, your team, the organization, or some combination of these things. Try to focus on the outcomes you wish to generate and what needs to be said to accomplish those outcomes.

Ask yourself what success would look like once the conversation is behind you – how do you want to feel and how do you want the other person to feel? Share your intention with them at the beginning of your conversation.

4. Prioritize trust

Check in with yourself and honestly consider whether or not there is trust in the relationship with the person you are about to initiate this conversation with. Does the other person trust you? Would you trust that this person had your best interest in mind if they were to give you constructive feedback? If you don’t already have trust, it will be harder for your message to land, and you will have to work harder when setting the stage for the conversation.

The top priority is to remain open to their point of view and be mindful not to get defensive if their recollection or perspective differs from yours. If there is trust, continue to deepen it by initiating the conversation in the spirit of elevating the relationship and helping the person grow, as well as delivering the message with both care and candor. Giving feedback could be seen as an offer to help the person to grow in some way. If there is trust, the other person will see it that way, and the conversation will be more productive.

One way to promote trust and psychological safety in a difficult conversation is to be vulnerable and honest – and again, put your relationship above the conversation. Start by sharing how you feel about them and the conversation you are about to have, and why this type of conversation is important for building trust.

Example: “I want to give you some feedback about your presentation in yesterday’s meeting. I know how hard you worked on it, and I think there are some opportunities to improve for next time. I want you to know that I’m coming to you because I respect you and want you to succeed – and I think you could be doing better in this area. Can we take 15 minutes to discuss this? Would that work to you?”

The “WHAT”

Now we get to that actual issue at hand, and the reason for having the conversation in the first place. The next few steps are where you focus on the situation, challenge, feedback at hand, and next steps.

5. Describe the Issue, Situation, or Pattern

What happened or is happening that you would like to discuss or debrief? Or perhaps there is a pattern of behavior you have observed you would like to bring to someone’s attention? In this step, the key is to describe the behavior or pattern of behavior you observed that needs to be addressed.

It is important to try your best to filter out your thoughts and feelings from what occurred. In other words, stick to facts and observed behaviors whenever possible. This means recount examples, emails, reports, or any specifics that can help you ground your assessments with evidence, without seeming like you’re attacking them with documentation. If you are not 100 percent certain the facts are true, be inquisitive throughout this step.

One of the biggest ways humans derail communication is by confusing opinions and facts. Don’t let your feelings overshadow the specific facts needed for productive conversations to happen. Make sure you are open, honest, respectful, and fact-based in your dialogue as you discuss the issue. Don’t withhold or sugarcoat facts that are important to the story, either. Open, honest, respectful, and fact-based helps you keep feedback judgment-free.

6. Share the Consequence(s) or Impact

This is where you describe how the issue or their behavior impacted the meeting, employee, team, organization, and/or yourself. Be specific about what happened as a result of the action they took (or didn’t take) or comment they made (or didn’t make). This might be a clear consequence, such as losing a client and associated revenue after being unprepared for a meeting, or a team member quitting in response to an inappropriate comment.

However, some element(s) of this step will likely be subjective, so it is important to label it that way. Share your perception here honestly. Here are two simple phrasing frameworks to help you through this step:

  • When …, I …” Phrasing: “When you don’t show up to team meetings, I fear you don’t care about the project and the entire team might see you as disengaged. It also adds an extra X# days to the project timeline.” 
  • Brené Brown’s “The story I’m telling myself …Phrasing: “The story I’m telling myself about when you don’t show up to team meetings is that you don’t care. I realize that is only my interpretation and I’m not seeing the whole picture.”

Be assertive about the facts, honest about your feelings, and open to their side of the story.

7. Invite Dialogue

Once you’ve shared your observations, perceptions, and impact, invite them to fill in their side of the story. A feedback conversation should not be a one-way conversation, it should be a two-way dialogue, so take turns sharing your experiences of the situation, and listening.

To build on the impact you shared in the prior step, here is what it might look like to add onto Step 6 and invite dialogue:

  • “I’m probably not seeing the whole picture, can you help me understand what’s happening on your end?”
  • “What are your thoughts on what I shared?”
  • “What happened from your perspective?”
  • “How does this land with you?”

8. Collaborate on the Solution and Go-Forward Plan

Once you both understand one another, you can collaborate on a go-forward plan.Decide together what to do next to ensure you are turning communication into action. This could be as simple as making a clear request and getting their buy-in and commitment on it, or it could include negotiating next steps or brainstorming solutions together.

You can have ideas or a plan in mind for next steps, but make sure you remain open to their perspective, ideas, and input as well. The goal in collaborating is to find out what ideas they have for a go-forward plan, share your ideas and expectations, and design something better together — a solution that meets the needs of one another, the team, and the organization.

Before you close this step, make sure you have a clear call-to-action that you both agree on, as well as a plan for following up and accountability. This can also be a collaborative process, just ensure there are clear next steps, ownership, conditions of satisfaction, and shared expectations that you both understand and agree on. You may need time to consider ideas, or you may need to meet several times before landing on a final plan and commitment here, depending on the situation. This final step is crucial, so don’t rush it.

Bottom Line on the Collaborative Feedback Framework

This framework highlights that there are many factors to consider in ensuring the success of your feedback conversation, and you need to prepare for it. You can’t expect to wing it and for it to go well.

To make these conversations effective, plan out what you need to say, when and where to say it, and how to make the message relevant, digestible, and productive for both you and the other person. Follow the steps in the collaborative feedback framework, and you’ll wind up with a positive outcome and stronger relationship.

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Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler, MA, PCC, is an ICF certified executive coach. She partners with leaders to develop their systems thinking, resilience, strategic communication skills, and executive presence in order to reach individual, team, and organizational goals. She blends more than 15 years of experience in leadership positions in the corporate world, with her master’s degree in organizational leadership and extensive background in mindfulness to help her clients master their leadership skills and steer their teams through challenges and change. Learn more about Melissa here.

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Melissa is the founder and executive coach at Wide Lens Leadership and a Partner at Evolution. As an ICF Certified Executive Coach with a Master's degree in organizational leadership, Melissa has coached hundreds of leaders ranging from C-suite to entrepreneur, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and across diverse industries. Her work focuses on helping high-performing senior leaders and their teams magnify impact by building trust, collaboration, accountability, and healthy communication skills.