Have you been asked to give feedback to one of your co-workers or employees recently? Or are you part of a 360 degree feedback process in your company? If so, chances are high that you are familiar with the (slight) feeling of pressure to really make things right to not end on bad terms with somebody. Most people asked to give feedback want to give honest and constructive feedback that helps the receiver to improve and develop. Still, many feel uncomfortable doing so since they fear it will harm the relationship with their colleagues. They worry that what they want to say will be misunderstood, not well received or make the other party “feel bad”.
This oftentimes ends up in feedback being barely comprehensive and even worse, completely ineffective. Holding back your true feedback to prevent that others might feel bad can potentially have worse consequences than speaking out the truth. People will continue to make the same mistakes, anger and frustration will build up and development will be rather hampered than promoted. In such a culture an organization might even lose some of their best people because nobody helped them to figure out how they can improve. To prevent this from happening and support colleagues´ and employees´ development with a functioning feedback culture, we gathered the most important best practices, examples and a checklist for how to feedback properly.
1. Assume and trust in good intent
As well as feedback receivers also the givers should trust in that everybody is participating in good faith. That also counts for managers and means that people should not worry about that what they say will have a negative impact on their co-workers. When analyzing feedback, managers will look for patterns. So, your feedback will only be one piece of the complete puzzle when the strengths and weaknesses of the receiver will be examined. In most cases the opinions of other colleagues as well as those of your manager, the employee’s self-evaluation and their work accomplishments will play an important role as well. Moreover, most managers aim for driving their employees performance and not for pinpointing their weak spots.
To bring across that you trust in good intent of all participants of the feedback process, focus on speaking only for yourself. Formulations like “A lot of people have been talking about [x].” or “I am not the only one who thinks like this.” will not convey good intent but rather make your co-worker feel like you are plotting against him. Therefore, they should never be used!
2. Find the right setting
Even if you are a feedback master, executing your feedback session in the wrong setting might make the effectiveness of it null and void in a split second. Thus, take care of that the feedback is given in a safe environment where people that have nothing to do with it are excluded from the session. While it might be okay to share positive feedback with a bigger group, negative feedback should be always given in private. Usually 1-on-1s and performance review sessions are an adequate context.
Also, the means of giving feedback play an important role. Using e-mails or the like to invite somebody to a feedback session might be a good idea. In most cases the actual feedback session should be carried out as personal conversation though. This will help you prevent misunderstandings, foster clarification and allows the feedback receiver to ask follow-up questions.
Finally, feedback should be given with an appropriate frequency. If the feedbacked behavior happened half a year or even longer ago it is not unlikely that details have been forgotten or the situation is not even relevant anymore. Therefore, you should pay attention to give timely feedback that allows receivers to stay responsive to their actions. However, that does not mean to squeeze in feedback meetings in tiny time slots at any prize. Keep in mind that a thorough feedback session needs time and should not be held under extreme time pressure.
3. Focus and make your key points
Whether it´s praise or criticism everybody can only deal with a certain amount of information. That is why you should try to focus on your most important key points when giving feedback. Limiting yourself to one to three aspects for the positive as well as the negative sides is usually a good idea. Splitting up your feedback in small, digestible chunks will make your praise and critique seem less overwhelming. This way the receiver will have an easier time to effectively deal with and work on your feedback.
4. Be honest and straightforward
Even if you have the intention to protect the receiver of your feedback you usually do no good to them by hedging your words, disguising the facts and giving evasive answers. Such feedback will give them a hard time to really understand what behavior they should change and how they should improve. The flat out truth, brought across in a friendly and respective manner will in most cases make it easier and simpler for the feedback receiver to understand how he or she can better work on their growth and development. To set the stage for such an honest and straightforward conversation your might want to start as unambiguously as possible, e.g. with
“I’m going to give you some feedback now.” or
“Are you open to my opinion and coaching on this?”
On the other hand try to avoid phrases and statements that beat about the bush, like
“How you do [x] is really good but maybe…”
5. Provide examples and be specific
What will help your co-workers a lot when you give them feedback are examples that illustrate your key points. Making them understand what happened that led you to your feedback will make it come across more objective and more comprehensible. Be clear and specific and try to describe how their behavior affected you and others. This will demonstrate the importance of the said. Explaining the consequences of not changing their current behavior for you, others and themselves is another option to show the meaningfulness and relevance of your feedback.
“When you forgot sent this email about [x] to our client [x] last week, Anna could not prepare her pitch presentation …”
e.g. will make it way more clear to your receiver, what behavior he should change than
“You are very sloppy with the timeliness of your communication.”
6. Make it a conversation
Making your feedback conversation a dialogue rather than a monologue will help to preserve the dynamic of mutual respect and power. Try to pause from time to time to allow the receiver to ask for clarification or to add comments. Also listen to him to ensure that you are on the same page. The conversational back-and-forth will not only make the whole process more respectful, but will also help to engage the other party better. Leading to a conversation that will ultimately be more effective and fruitful.
You can use e.g. phrases like these:
“I understand you were having some issues. Can you tell me what happened?” or
“Can you describe the respective conversation?” or
“What caused [x] to happen? Was this something you encountered before?”
7. Focus on opportunities for growth
While you want to give constructive feedback that should include praise as well as critique you should not focus exclusively on the negative aspects. Keep in mind that when things are going well, feedback can increase the efficiency of behaviors and processes. Moreover, it can create a solid foundation that might be essential in more rough periods. Positive feedback will demonstrate your receivers which behaviors they should continue to do and maybe even reinforce in other areas. Therefore, try to find the right balance between the positive aspects you are seeing and the behaviors that need to be adjusted. When you are heading over to the critique points you have, make actionable suggestions on how the receiver can actually improve or change to reach certain desired outcomes.
Examples (Kicking it off, Praise, Critique, Clarification, Wrapping it up)
We all know it. Sometimes you actually know what you want to say but you just cannot find the right words. That is why we listed some useful example phrases for different phases of your feedback process.
Kicking it off
“I’d like to give you some feedback, is now a good time?”
“I want to see you achieve the goal we talked about recently. Do you have time to talk with me?’’
“Can we talk about [x]? What do you think worked, and what didn’t?”
“How are you feeling about [x]? Is there anything you need my advice on?”
“I think you did a great job when you did [x]. It showed that you had [y].”
“I can see you’re having a positive impact on [x].”
“I really appreciate your [x] and the work you’re contributing to [x].”
“I very much liked [x]. Continue doing that!”
“I’ve noticed that you have been [x]/ did [y] several times this month. This can be really disruptive to me. Is there something going on that makes it hard for you to [x]?”
“I saw that you missed that deadline. Is something up? How can we fix this?”
“ I wasn’t so sure about what you did with regard to [x]. I’d think about approaching it with [y].”
“I thought you could improve with regard to [x]. I think firstly, you could do [y]…”
“What are your thoughts on how I could improve [x]?”
“Would it be better to do [x] instead of [y] in your opinion?”
“Can we discuss [x] in more detail? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“How should it [x] look like? I want to make sure I understand your expectations for [y].”
“It seems like you want me to do [x], but I previously thought this was about [y]. Is that correct?”
Wrapping it up
‘’Would you be willing to do [x]?’’
“Thank you for talking about this with me and being open-minded and willing to improve.’’
“I’m always happy to hear what is and isn’t working for you. Let me know if you have any more issues with what we talked about.”
“Thank you for taking the time to listen to me and for acknowledging my thoughts and opinion. I am looking forward to see how you are doing even better.”
After so much information, we created a short checklist for you. This should help you prevent losing track and give you a quick overview about the most important points.
- Intention: Think of why you want to give feedback.
- Setting: Are you having your feedback session in a safe environment?
- Focus: Are you conveying your key points and main concerns?
- Honesty: Are your words reflecting what you are actually thinking?
- Examples: Are you specific enough so that the receiver kann truly understand you?
- Conversation: Are you allowing the receiver to add comments and ask for clarification?
- Growth: Are you giving feedback in a way that helps the receiver to grow and develop?