How to give great feedback

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“Thank-you for the feedback you gave me yesterday. It was hard to hear, but I thought about it and I realise it is true and I can do something about it.â€

“Thank-you. It is really nice to hear I did that well. That makes me want to do it more, and I think I can make it even better. Plus, this makes me feel like telling other people when they do something particularly well.â€

“OK, I hear you. Can you give me any specific suggestions how I could have done it better?â€

“OK, so if we are doing feedback, please can I give you some feedback too?â€

Have your people said these sorts of things to you? How often? Often enough?

Feedback is one of the most powerful behaviours we have available to us to improve the performance of others and of ourselves. Yet

  • Many of us have never had training in it
  • Most of us instinctively don’t like getting input that challenges our self-perception, and so we tend to react negatively initially, e.g. feeling hurt, disappointed, frustrated
  • Knowing that we might receive a difficult reaction from others, leads some people to avoid giving feedback

Giving & receiving feedback well is something you have to role model. You can’t tell someone about giving feedback and expect them to do it, if you do not! But if you do it well, frequently with your people, then in turn, they will do it with theirs … and you will make an important step in creating a learning, trusting culture.

There is no need to wait until formal appraisals to begin. If this is going to be a change in your behaviour, then it is worth telling your people you are going to start using feedback more as part of your team / culture development, and then get started. Here are some thoughts on how to give feedback well.

1) Give both positive feedback and challenging / critical feedback. If you only ever give positive feedback, then you are probably too keen to be liked, and soon enough people will not even value the positive feedback! If you only give critical / challenging feedback, then you will likely lead to people avoiding you or experiencing stress. Do not ‘sandwich’ challenging feedback between positive feedback: This is inauthentic. Try to give more positive feedback (let’s say at least 3x more) than critical feedback.

2) Give the feedback as time-close to the event as possible. Obviously be sensitive – do not give feedback to someone in the middle of a difficult meeting or in front of other people! Equally do not wait until a quarterly appraisal discussion. After the meeting, or at the end of the day, ask if you can get 10 minutes together and ask if you can give some feedback.

3) Be specific. Talk about the behaviour, not the person. And then, if appropriate, having described objectively the behaviour, you can say how it made you feel, or how you think others might have felt. “In the meeting earlier, I saw you speak over people 3 times, not acknowledging their input, but instead repeating your point. I feel that each of the people looked frustrated and spoke less during the session after that. I think you are right about the subject, but I am not sure that you are getting the best out of your colleagues….. Do you recognise this…How could you handle situations like this differently….â€

4) Watch carefully, and be sensitive how to progress the discussion. For example

  • If your colleague seems open and keen to understand more, let them ask questions, and be ready to answer.
  • If they look unsure or troubled, take time, wait for them to talk. If appropriate, you can suggest that they think about it overnight and you can talk together again the next day.
  • If you sense that your colleague is not sure what they could do instead, then you can offer them some specific examples of alternative behaviours

5) Ask for feedback. Do this in 2 ways. Firstly, when you start working with new colleagues, tell them you believe in the importance of feedback, how, and why. And ask them to give you real-time feedback (as above) if they experience you doing something they feel you could do better, or that you do particularly well. You are going to give them feedback, and you appreciate receiving it too. Secondly, have quarterly check-in meetings with your direct reports, and make mutual feedback a key part of those discussions. When appropriate include ‘feed forward’ – suggestions on areas of strength which you can develop further, do more, and areas which you can improve…. ‘what can you do to fulfil your potential’.

6) Always ensure your intentions are pure! Feedback is to help another human being learn and improve performance. It is not a way to get what you want, criticise in the guise of help, or manipulate!

I hope these thoughts will help you give and receive great feedback, and help to liberate people’s potential. In a future article we will explore how to maximise the power of appraisal discussions including and beyond feedback.

Peter Soer
Peter Soer
Peter combines experience as a coach, marketing leader & someone who has faced the fear of being found out. He harnesses this experience with his natural optimism & determination, to help people thrive in their work and enjoy the life they want. To achieve our dreams, we have 2 resources, time and energy – so use them well.

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