“Feedback” isn’t scary – it’s just a misunderstood term for communicating effectively. It’s in everyone’s power and interest to give feedback; we just need to get a whole lot better at how, why and when we dish it out. Here’s how to reclaim the F-word and put it to its best use: strengthening productive connections with other people.
When to give feedback
You should only give feedback when it serves an actual productive purpose. That means it benefits the person you’re giving it to and not just yourself. As a general rule, we should feed back to other people for three main purposes:
People tend to think of feedback in purely negative terms, but it’s a basic compassionate mechanism allowing us to grow, improve and support each other. The potential for positive motivational impact is huge – we should all be using feedback to celebrate each others’ contributions and express how much we value them a lot more.
While the topics we address might be sensitive, they should never be negative personal attacks. Feedback helps learn how to improve techniques and strategies, how to work together more effectively and how to adjust our behaviour to enable everyone around us.
Always aim to give feedback within 24 hours of an observed action or event taking place, while the details are fresh to everyone and events aren’t clouded by your selective memory. But use basic empathy here – be sensitive to your colleague’s personal context to judge whether it’s an appropriate time.
What’s important when giving feedback
Cut to the chase
Keep what you want to say clean and simple – don’t decorate, don’t cushion, don’t distract from your main message. It goes against all social human impulses to do this, but to be effective you need to get straight to the point. We often try to mitigate the “harshness” of some feedback by bookending it with positive comments, but this just serves to weaken or confuse our main message.
Say your piece
The floor is yours, so don’t let people interrupt you. This is made easier by sticking to your subject – don’t provide any other hooks that people can latch on to and go off on tangents. If people start interjecting mid-flow or pulling conversation off topic, calmly ask them to let you finish and respond to your single key point.
General, vague feedback will never be constructive. Always base your feedback on a specific event or action. Be thoughtful and considerate in your use of language to make sure you’re objectively focusing on what happened. Emotive, leading or accusatory language makes feedback feel like a personal attack – which it should never be.
Say how you feel
You can only speak for your perspective. Don’t try and interpret what someone else is feeling, but explain how a particular event or action made you feel. It gives people context as to how actions have a big emotional impact, and your honesty in sharing how it made you feel helps people relate to your experience.
Don’t be disheartened
Everyone should be able to give feedback, regardless of role, rank or seniority. We’re socially programmed towards self-preservation, so giving feedback to your boss can be super awkward. But don’t be put off – if there’s an issue between you, you need to address it; if they don’t respond respectfully, you probably won’t enjoy working for them long-term.
4-Steps to constructive feedback
This simple 4-step framework can help you give effective feedback that effects actual positive change.
Ask if you can give feedback. Mention what it relates to without diving into details, and find an appropriate place to give it. Choose a neutral, private place away from other colleagues – your environment shouldn’t intimidate or embarrass.
Explain the specific situation/actions you are feeding back on. Lay out what you observed and try and be as objective as possible. Focus on stating what happened – it should not be a personal attack.
Share how you felt as a result of the person’s action. This plainly highlights to the other person the effect their actions had on you emotionally. It is your personal experience and they need to understand how you felt was valid.
Request action to address and resolve the matter. You may need to schedule a follow-up meeting a few weeks later to check it’s been resolved or to measure the success of a new approach, if it’s a measurable target.
While this all seems framed for giving awkward feedback, it can (and should) be used for giving praise. Feedback isn’t a tool for when something goes wrong – your whole team can get a lot closer just by regularly celebrating successes and showing how much everyone matters.