While it's said that thoughtful feedback is a gift, most people don't see it that way. In fact, many try to avoid it--and most won't ask for it.

For this reason, leaders must deliver feedback in a way that makes it truly constructive for the recipient who will receive it. Giving feedback is an important part your job. It's also a difficult one.

Here are six rules to make it easier:

  1. Praise in public; criticize in private. Always follow this rule.
  2. Build trust. People receive feedback better when they trust the person delivering it. Ideally, the recipient should understand that you're sharing thoughts in the interest of serving their needs. The more trust you can build, the easier it is to have more difficult discussions because you come from a place of working together rather than a place of judgment. The more trust you've built, the more candid you can be.
  3. Make it inspiring. When I started my career, I received feedback from Mad Men-style bosses who used feedback as a weapon to chastise. But much like bullying, this approach is out of favor as it was always unlikely to yield great outcomes. Feedback should be delivered in a way that provides validation and inspiration.
  4. Timing is everything. Don't hold these conversations when you're angry, because it's far more likely the recipient will be put on the defensive. Deliver feedback with good intentions.
  5. Prime the person for what's coming. Feedback is best given when people are open to receiving it. How do you know? Ask them. Say, "Do you have some time for a one-on-one? I had some suggestions I was hoping to share with you. If you are not prepared for that now, we can discuss when you are ready." This is a way to clue them in to what is happening and help them understand that your goal is to help them.
  6. Don't avoid delivering feedback just because it's hard. We can't take the new nicer workplace to an extreme and let it remove our ability to offer constructive feedback. Tough love can go a long way on the path to improvement.

Feedback is not a one way street. As a leader you also have to understand the value of asking for and receiving feedback from the people with whom you work. Soliciting feedback is a great way to learn and grow.

Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Continuously pursue feedback. Always ask, "Is this working? Is there anything else I should be doing?"
  2. Be approachable. It's hard for someone to tell you something critical, and it is important for you to be understanding of this. Try "baiting the hook." You know some of your own weaknesses. Ask a colleague or direct report if they've noticed you do something you shouldn't, and if they have advice for you. Often, they will ask for advice in turn.
  3. Listen and respond, but don't react. You don't have to follow the feedback you are being given, but you do need to listen to it. See feedback as another person's perception--not another person's judgment. That helps you can look at what's being conveyed with open eyes.

Never be afraid of the truth. Commit to creating a learning environment and enlisting your team's support to help you grow. Understanding that you're never done improving will help you as a leader.