Where's The Gift? Using feedback to work smarter, learn faster and avoid disaster

There Is No Greater Gift Than Feedback

Feedback is an incredibly powerful tool. When offered effectively, it has the ability to grow and develop the people in your business, improve levels of trust and communication, and strengthen bonds between employees and managers. And it’s not only the workplace where feedback is a great gift.

Unfortunately, feedback is often ignored or omitted entirely in an effort to avoid discomfort both for the giver and the receiver. Holding back feedback to prevent others feeling bad can potentially have worse consequences than speaking out. People will continue to make the same mistakes, anger and frustration will build up and development will be hampered not 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.

Some say to avoid unsolicited feedback, however I believe that if effective, quality feedback is even more impactful when it is unsolicited. Don’t forget, feedback is not always about improvement, it is very much about the positive behaviours observed as well.

Here are 10 tips to help managers and leaders give employee feedback that’s frequent, effective, and will help you and the receiver get the outcome you need.

1. Be Timely

One of the most important qualities of effective feedback is timeliness. Don’t wait for a quarterly review. Employee feedback immediately following an event has the greatest impact on performance, and engagement peaks when employees receive feedback on a regular cadence.

If issues are left unaddressed, they may multiply by a domino effect. So, by the time the quarterly performance review comes around, you’ll be confronted with a host of issues that could have been avoided if mentioned earlier.

Another flaw in saving feedback for the performance review process is that problems will be forgotten and the time for offering valuable feedback will have passed.

2. Find the right setting

Even if you are a feedback guru, executing your feedback in the wrong setting can make the effectiveness of it flawed in a split second. And you can damage your own reputation as perceived by other employees. So, ensure 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, improvement feedback should always be given in private. Usually 1-on-1s and performance review sessions are an adequate context, as long as the performance review is not the only time you provide feedback (point 1 above).

Feedback isn’t just uncomfortable for the receiver; it can be uncomfortable for the giver as well. By moving the location to a more informal area, you can help to alleviate some of the underlying pressure.

Also, the means of giving feedback play an important role. Nowadays, with so many remote workers, there is no reason that the actual feedback session cannot be carried out as personal conversation, even if using technology. The use of video is far stronger than providing feedback over the phone. This will help prevent misunderstandings, foster clarification and allows the observation of behaviours, so you can respond appropriately. Using e-mails or the like to invite somebody to a feedback session might be a good idea to clarify the purpose of the session.

3. Be Caring and Open-Minded

Delivering feedback that exposes a wide gap in self-knowledge demands an extra measure of sensitivity. Like ripping off a scab, the sting of discovering such a profound gap often elicits strong emotions that can easily be confused as defensiveness. If you’re someone who bears the brunt of your colleague’s difficult behaviour, be sure you can set those frustrations aside in favour of the empathy you’ll need for this conversation.

Before you even approach your colleague, be prepared to give them the space they’ll need to feel shocked upon receiving your feedback. With some feedback, people work through the grief cycle, moving shock to action at a vastly different pace.

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 being vague with 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 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 you might want to start as unambiguously as possible, look at our examples below.

5. Be Specific

Effective feedback is also clear and specific. Feedback should be solutions oriented, and to the point. Try to describe how their behaviour affected you. If your intention is to offer corrective feedback, general comments, like “Your work needs to be improved” or “I wasn’t overly impressed with those reports. You have to do better than that” can leave your employee confused and in the dark as to what aspect of their work needs to be corrected.

Explaining the consequences of not changing their current behaviour for you, others and themselves is another option to show the meaningfulness and relevance of your feedback.

So, focus on what you’d like your employee to do and offer guidance on how they can apply the feedback. For example, “I noticed you were late on your last two deadlines. I’d like to work with you on your time management to ensure you’re not committing to too much and completing each of your tasks in a timely manner.”

Speak only for yourself. Saying things 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 them. Therefore, they should never be used!

6. Be Impactful

Feedback that paints a larger picture of company success is going to be most impactful. People like to know how their performance impacts the wider business, in both positive and negative ways. Linking to the company performance can provide a new level of meaning to their role. Keep in mind that when things are going well, feedback can increase the efficiency of behaviours and processes. Moreover, it can create a solid foundation that might be essential in more rough periods.

Whether it´s praise or criticism everybody can only deal with a certain amount of information. So, focus on your most important key points when giving feedback. Pick one to three aspects for the positive behaviours as well as the improvement areas. 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.

By doing this, you can give the control to your employee and increase the likelihood that they will act on the feedback you share. Empower your people to control the feedback agenda by helping them feel confident and comfortable enough to ask for it.

7. Focus on performance, not personality

Focus on an employee’s behaviours (what they do) rather than on their personality traits (what they’re like). Consider these two examples from “The Secret to Giving Constructive Criticism” and think about what type of feedback you would like to receive.

Example 1: “Your arrogance is causing a problem.”

Example 2: “When you interrupt me in front of a client it causes a problem.”

The better approach to feedback is in example 2 because it’s focused on the person’s behaviour, whereas example 1 takes a jab at the person’s character, which won’t be conducive to improvement.

8. Don’t take the “sandwich approach”

Helping someone improve should always be the goal of feedback but sandwiching corrective feedback between two pieces of positive feedback won’t soften the blow. This method creates confusion for the receiver, undermines your feedback, and can decrease levels of trust. Often the real message is lost.

Although it may feel more uncomfortable for the giver, being upfront and transparent with corrective feedback sets the foundation for an authentic conversation. Focus on delivering feedback tactfully instead of beating around the bush.

9. Feedback is a 2-way conversation

This is important. Lecturing someone on how they should improve is about as effective as a chocolate tea pot. Don’t forget the important element of respect when discussing vulnerable topics, and certainly don’t talk at someone when it’s far more effective to open up the conversation and talk with them.

Let the receiver respond to your feedback and allow them to ask to follow up questions. Once the issue is clear, then you two can work together to land on a solution or course-of-action.

10. Keep the conversation going by following up

Evaluation is tough, and it takes a lot of thought and energy to do it properly. Instead of treating feedback conversations as a tick done operation, follow up with your direct report and show appreciation when you see improvement along the way. This will show them that you care about their success, and it can motivate them to keep up the great work.

Employee feedback is a necessary part of growth and development. These tips can help managers and leaders deliver it more effectively, which will lead to more collaborative, communicative, and higher-performing cultures.

Examples in How To Kick It Off, Give Praise, Critique, Clarification and Wrapping it Up

We all know that sometimes you actually know what you want to say but you just cannot find the right words. So here are 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.”

Your Checklist

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.

a) Intention: Think of why you want to give feedback.

b) Setting: Choose a safe environment to provide the feedback

c) Focus: Are you conveying your key points and main concerns?

d) Honesty: Be true, make your words reflect what you are actually thinking

e) Examples: Be specific enough so that the receiver can truly understand you

f) Conversation: Allow time for receiver to add comments and ask for clarification. It’s a two-way process

g) Growth: Provide the feedback in a way that helps the receiver to grow and develop

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