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Giving and Receiving Feedback

Giving Feedback to Others

Giving Feedback to Others

Giving feedback is an art. If it is done badly, it can irritate or demotivate another person and even have a negative “knock-on effect” on the wider team. If it is done well however, it can enthuse or motivate another person and even lift overall team or organizational morale. It is therefore a skill that all leaders should learn to use well.

In the most basic terms, good feedback can be seen to be a simple process in which we follow the six steps outlined in the list below:

  1. Think clearly about your objectives in giving someone else feedback-make sure that what you really want is to constructively help and support them.
  2. If you are really just wanting to criticize or blow off steam take time out or delay giving feedback until you have some more constructive solution-focused comments to make.
  3. Plan exactly what you want to say so that it is concise, specific fair and balanced (even writing out a few notes for yourself if that helps).
  4. Now think of an overall positive statement to finish with.
  5. Look to give feedback as closely to any performance results or behavior (on which we wish to offer feedback) as possible.
  6. Inform the other person that you want to offer feedback and get his or her assent to offering it according to the guidelines o what we will all “rules” outlined below.

The Rules for Giving Feedback to Others: 

Rule 1: Give Feedback Quickly following an “Event”

The brain works best if the feedback is given in a timely manner (e.g. close to the performance or behavior “event” on which you want to offer feedback). Always avoid saving up feedback from a number of different events for the quarterly or year-end appraisal. This rule means that you will have to think quickly and “on your feet” and find opportunities to talk with people on the same day or week. 

Rule 2: Recognize That the Feedback is Just Your Opinion

No matter how clear you are on what the other person has been doing “right” or “wrong” in a given “event” we always need to remember that this does not make it a fact. Other observers of the same event will often reach a different conclusion. Stating that this is just your opinion gives the other person a choice of taking your thoughts on board or discarding them. Your opinion is then much more easily heard. 

Rule 3: Ask How the Other Person Wants to Receive the Feedback

Some people will think less of you if you try to be overly nice with the feedback. Others will be offended by too direct an approach. A good feedback giver therefore needs to be able to find the right balance between direct and clear about what you want the person to appreciate but in a fair and reasonable way (and sensitive to their feelings depending upon the issue involved). 

Rule 4: Start by Saying Something Positive

If you need to give more negatively oriented feedback, always start by saying something positive. We can therefore deliver the feedback in a positive “sandwich” – something positive, the negatives, and finally something positive again. A good opening positive can be as broad or “big picture” as you like here. For example, “You contribution to the team has always been appreciated.” 

Rule 5: Deliver Negatives Clearly and Concisely

Be clear and concise in delivering any of the more negative comments you wish to make. You should also always stick to the observable facts as far as possible. Where you can, provide examples of what you observed that the other person can relate to and try to challenge behavior not attack the person. 

Rule 6: Agree on Solutions, if this is Applicable

Where appropriate, discuss possible forward strategies or alternative actions or behavior with the other person. Make sure this is a dialogue not a one-sided, you-telling-them exactly what you think they should do. Guide the person to possible solutions or new behaviors rather than issue instructions. 

Rule 7: Say Something Else Positive to Wrap Up

Even very constructively and sensitively offered feedback, when it is critical in any way, can be taken negatively or seen to be destructive. If you say something else which is broadly positive to complete the feedback sandwich, you are much more likely to leave the other person in a reasonable frame of mind. For example, you could use something like “You have always been open to new ways of getting work done.” 

Rule 8: Remain Judgment Free

If the other person thinks you are being judgmental, they will probably raise their natural defensive barriers. If you can stay genuinely free of judging the other person (in your words, tone, facial expressions or general body language), they are likely to respond more positively to your suggestions.

Giving Feedback to Others: Just One Example how the above may work: 

 “Hi David, as Chairman of the monthly review meeting, I have been watching the way people communicate ideas during the regular brainstorming sessions we have. I have observed some behavior you might find interesting. Can I give you some feedback on what I have noticed? 

First, I want to stress that these observations are just how I saw things, they may or may not be true for you. If you find anything in what I saw that helps, that’s great. Please feel free to discard any of my opinions that don’t work for you. 

I have noticed that everyone has their own preference for receiving feedback. Some like it straight and to the point, others prefer a more gentle approach. On a continuum of direct to gentle, what works best for you?  So, fairly direct it is then. 

During the meeting I noticed you had lots of great ideas. Whenever we got stuck you came up with a lateral thought that seemed to me to be a really good option. I also noticed that two or three other participants were much more forceful that you in delivering their ideas and they rolled over the top of you on several occasions. As a result, your ideas were not taken up and I observed that you were noticeably quieter thereafter and appeared to withdraw from the debate. The result was that we may well have arrived at an inferior solution from the one or ones that you seemed to be promoting. 

This organization needs all the bright ideas it can get and I am wondering how it might be possible to make sure that you have a fair say at future meetings? I am happy to use my influence as Chairman to keep these meeting as open as possible. Is there anything you can do make sure that everyone gets to hear your ideas and give them appropriate consideration? Okay, that’s great. I look forward to you being more assertive, putting some of your thoughts on paper for circulation and voicing more clearly your logical alternatives and modifications to the ideas of others. 

Thanks David, it is a real pleasure to have such a quick and agile mind working on our behalf. I thought your idea for commissioning the new system was absolutely inspirational, just the type of approach we need. I’d like you to flesh it out for consideration at the next meeting.” 

Summary:

Giving feedback well is a powerful skill to hone but it takes focus, effort and time to evolve. It may not always run quite as you plan it to (as there is always the “wild card” of the receiver in the equation). If things don’t always go completely to plan in each feedback conversation you have, use the following as a checklist to see what you might improve upon next time.

  1. Check your intention in giving feedback. Make sure you are coming from a genuine desire to be helpful and constructive (and not just offering gratuitous criticism).
  2. Leave all personal judgments about the person behind. This may take quite a bit of practice.
  3. Be genuine about the positive parts of the sandwich. In some cases you may have to look pretty hard for something you can say and mean at the outset and as the conversation closes.
  4. Feedback giving may seem a little difficult or awkward at first. Practice at home and on friends to get used to the process. If you have children, nieces or nephews, note the difference in acceptance of your message when you use the above process fully and well.
  5. Practice receiving feedback in a positive way too. This will help you on the giving side.
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About John Radclyffe

John Radclyffe, Founder and Managing Director of WorldGAMES in Australia, is a rare breed of facilitator, trainer and consultant who has in-depth and hands-on experience in a broad range of skills; training, financial, marketing, new business development and business management among them.

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Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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