giving feedback: the best books of all time

5 Books to Deliver Feedback in the 21st Century

Giving feedback is a never-ending discussion, at least in management circles. To provide quality feedback, you need to practice and sometimes learn by your own slip of the tongue. But what if you don’t have another day to learn from your mistakes? What’s the best way to make what you say count, then? I’ve asked the most stolid managers to share must-reads on how to deliver feedback and they pinpointed these five best feedback books.

Books to Help You Improve Your Feedback Skills

Rich Lyons, writing about feedback at Forbes, indicates that practice is nothing if you keep practicing the same wrong moves over and over again. That’s true – going down the same road every time won’t make feedback delivery more effective. That is to say, feedback is situational and depends both on the strengths of the giver and the receiver. The following books will help you make feedback an integral part of communication in your team.

1. The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson

best feedback books

Amy Edmondson is a management professor at Harvard Business School who has dedicated a ton of her time and work to exploring the area of psychological safety. As stated in her best-selling book, psychological safety is one of the most important things to create for a leader to ensure communication that results in innovation. The Fearless Organization is all about fostering psychological safety in the workplace through better idea management. Generally, it is a practical guide for teams and organizations striving to accomplish new heights, but not sure how to do it. The book is an in-depth interpretation of psychological safety and how it can be measured in organizations. Its central point is well-defined in the foreword:

Success requires a continuous influx of new ideas, new challenges, and critical thought, and the interpersonal climate must not suppress, silence, ridicule or intimidate […]. People must be allowed to voice half-finished thoughts, ask questions from left field, and brainstorm out loud; it creates a culture in which a minor flub or momentary lapse is no big deal, and where actual mistakes are owned and corrected, and where the next left-field idea could be the next big thing.

As a manager who provides feedback every day, you need to learn how to handle ideas. What this book promises to give you is knowledge about how psychological safety links to high performance and a blueprint for establishing both in your organization. When people feel safe to contribute their ideas and their initiative is supported, yours will be, too. It means that the feedback delivery process will become less stressful and more natural. Edmondson’s experience is proof that the feedback process can flow both ways without repercussions.

Goodreads rating: 4.13

Published in 2018

To better understand the concept of psychological safety, you can watch her famous TED talk here.

2. Radical Candor by Kim Scott

books to deliver feedback

To start with, Scott’s book is a recent favorite of business leaders and CEOs because it shows a specific framework of delivering feedback and interacting with your team. Managing teams at Google and Apple, Scott learned an important lesson on how to be both a better boss and a better colleague and earned a good reputation. Her secret sauce to delivering feedback, called Radical Candor, has two ingredients – to Care Personally and Challenge Directly. As long as you give feedback caring for the receivers and challenging them at the same time, you condition the right workplace culture.

Here’s what Greg Schott, CEO of Mulesoft, says about the results of Scott’s framework after applying it to their situation:

We rolled out the Radical Candor framework at a 600-person company meeting six months ago. Despite having only applied modest reinforcement to date, we are already seeing the benefits. People will often start a conversation with ‘In the spirit of radical candor…’ I love that it has allowed us to grab onto that phrase to transition toward a radically candid company. I can’t think of a better way to improve our culture and, most important, help our people improve and develop. Thank you Kim!

Basically, it’s all about having the courage to speak directly what you have in mind, but with care and honesty to another person. This feedback book will give you everything you need to improve relationships in the workplace.

Goodreads rating: 4.19

Published in 2017

3. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

giving effective feedback

Nonviolent Communication is a book that makes people re-think the way they communicate with each other. Rosenberg’s mission is to convince everyone that people are never the cause of negative emotions like sadness, frustration, or anger. While they may become catalysts of what we feel, we are in charge of our own emotions. This book would be a perfect addition to The Fearless Organization and Radical Candor, as it teaches both perception of feedback and conscious responses. One of the reviewers, Bobby Powers, called Nonviolent Communication a wicked combo of Dale Carnegie and Mother Theresa.

A vital lesson any project manager can learn from this book is to never judge people and, more important, to never express judgment in communication.

Goodreads rating: 4.34

Published in 2003

4. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

must-reads to give feedback

If you want to improve your feedback skills, Marcus Buckingham’s book is a definite go-to. This book is rather a result of the revolutionary research program than an amateur observation. A classic in the art of giving feedback, it has received a token of appreciation from many project managers. The objective of the book is to show people how to discover their strengths and capitalize on them instead of constantly focusing on eliminating our weaknesses and becoming experts at what we’re not good at.

As a result of the investigation carried out by the Gallup International Research & Education Center, Now, Discover Your Strengths consists of 34 dominant “themes” with thousands of possible combinations. The book shows how each of them can best be translated into personal and career success. In addition, the program has been developed based on psychological profiles of more than two million individuals.

Ordering a book, you receive a unique identification number that grants you online access to to the StrengthsFinder Profile. After doing a web-based interview test, you’ll get wind of five themes that best identify you as an individual. Once the test is done, you can immediately jump to learn the book sections with the utmost meaning for you. The book will now complete its mission by leveraging your five themes for powerful results. In fact, the authors promise to do it at three levels: for your own development, for your success as a manager, and for the success of your organization.

Goodreads rating: 3.97

Published in 2001

5. Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone

books to provide quality feedback

Giving positive, negative, or any 360-degree feedback is almost always a difficult conversation. Stone, however, reveals how to manage such conversations in his book. In short, it is especially recommended for people who feel misunderstood, have difficulties communicating, and want to understand others better. After reading it, you’ll find ways to properly adjust your communication with colleagues at work, friends, parents, or like-minded individuals.

Goodreads rating: 4.07

Published in 2000

There will always be different scenarios that require your word as a manager. And how you tackle them can either motivate or discourage your peers. Above all, what feedback lessons have you learned so far occupying a management or any other position? What books on giving feedback would you recommend? Let’s talk!

Illustration: Copyright © Oksana Drachkovska


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

June 18, 2019 at 12:25 PM

Interesting. Will look out for non-violent communication. A catchy title.

Iryna Viterreply
June 18, 2019 at 1:06 PM
– In reply to: Debbie

Thanks for your comment, Debbie! Let me know if you like it when you read the book 🙂

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