For me it felt like providing so called negative feedback was a step towards creating a conflict. I didn't want to take the chances, so I wouldn't provide negative feedback. That was until I learned what meaningful feedback is, and in particular what mindset you should have when providing feedback. Feedback is not about yourself, it is about your interlocutor. To provide valuable feedback you need to have the other person's interest in mind. This is about empathy, and thinking about what you can share that could help the person grow. Sharing it in a way that will be as easy as possible for your interlocutor to take. In this regard receiving negative feedback is more valuable than positive one. Of course positive feedback helps you knowing that you are doing things right, being more confident, and generally feel good about yourself. Positive feedback is about confirmation. Negative feedback, if done right, is about opportunity. Opportunity to learn, to grow, to improve yourself. Positive feedback is about who you are. Negative feedback is about who you could be. If all you have is the other person's interest in mind, then offering feedback is showing them the path to a better self.
In the article What good feedback really looks like (HBR) the authors introduce the Situation-Behavior-Impact or SBI method. It is an approach to providing feedback that invites you to stay factual. Describe the situation that you are referring to, what was your interlocutor behavior and what was the outcome of this behavior. By staying factual, you prevent your interlocutor from feeling judge, which could trigger a defensive behavior. Always remember to have the interest of your interlocutor in mind.
Reach up while reaching down
I was touched by this lecture of Herbie Hancock shading light on some of the feedback he received during his early years, and how it helped him becoming who he is today. In his own words:
Miles [Davis] could feel my frustration and through his compassion for me and his respect for my feelings he made the wisest of comments. Only a great master can provide a path to finding your own true answers. I was then able to translate Miles’ guidances to my future band mates and students. Reach up while reaching down. Grow while help on others.