How to Give Good Feedback to Your Team

Have you ever tried giving feedback and felt like you were either walking on eggshells or tossing a grenade? 

Feedback is the thing we all love to give but hate to receive. Let’s face it: Feedback sessions sometimes feel like you’re about to ruin someone’s day or yours.

Seventy-five percent of employees believe feedback is valuable, but less than 30% of respondents reported receiving feedback from their peers and customers. This indicates a significant gap between the perceived value of feedback and the actual practice of giving it. However, on the flip side, companies that conduct regular feedback experience 14.9% lower turnover rates, and 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week, compared to 18% of employees with low engagement.

Feedback is crucial for growth, both personally and professionally. But clearly, most aren’t good at it. So, let me give you seven tips on providing feedback that fosters growth and constructive conversations.

Tip #1 – Fostering a Feedback-Friendly Culture

“We’re too busy to worry about changing things right now.” “That’s just the way things are done around here.” “Stop talking. You aren’t helpful.” “You should know. Why are you bothering me.”

First, you must create an environment where feedback isn’t just tolerated; it’s welcomed. Otherwise, you’ll never succeed at giving or receiving feedback positively.

Right now, Some of you think that creating a feedback-friendly culture sounds like trying to convince cats to enjoy bath time. But remember, even cats can learn to tolerate water if you convince them it’s their idea.

We have to shift our perspective from criticism to growth and encourage open discussions so that sharing and receiving constructive criticism becomes normal. Normalizing these discussions as part of personal and professional growth is essential. In other words, embrace those awkward, sweaty-palmed chats.

Once you have the right culture for giving and receiving constructive feedback, we can move on to the next tip, which is…

Tip #2 – Make It Timely

The best feedback happens close to the event that triggered it. There are three reasons why this is important:

  • The memory of the event is fresh in everyone’s minds. This accuracy is vital for providing specific examples and for the recipient to clearly understand the context. It’s much easier to recall and discuss the nuances of a situation that happened yesterday than six months ago.
  • Prompt feedback prevents the accumulation of minor issues into more significant problems. Think of it as weeding a garden; it’s much easier to pull out small weeds as they appear than to tackle an overgrown jungle at the end of the season. Addressing issues as they arise prevents them from rotting and potentially undermining morale and performance.
  • Timely feedback demonstrates that you are attentive and care about your team’s growth and development. It shows that you’re not just observing but actively invested in their improvement. This can significantly boost the recipient’s motivation and engagement.

Waiting too long can dilute the message and make the conversation more complicated than necessary. Think of feedback like fresh bread; it’s best served warm. Wait too long, and it’s just stale and hard enough to cause damage. “Remember that thing you did six months ago? No? Well, I’ve been stewing on it, and…”

If you notice something worth mentioning, schedule a chat within the week.

However, timing isn’t just about speed; it’s also about choosing the right moment. When emotions are running high, giving feedback in the heat of the moment may not always be wise. It’s crucial to find a balance—act swiftly, but choose a moment when you and the recipient are in the right headspace to have a constructive conversation.

Tip #3 – Be Specific / Focus on Evidence

Navigating the feedback maze requires more than good intentions; it needs precision. It’s like telling someone to improve their cooking without specifying whether it’s the salt, the timing, or the temperature that needs adjustment. Here are four tips to give feedback that doesn’t just point out the gap but bridge it:

  • Use Concrete Examples: Imagine you’re painting a picture with your words. Instead of broad strokes, you’re using fine lines to detail precisely what actions or behaviors need change. For instance, “During the team call, when you responded promptly to the client’s question about our project timeline, it showcased your command over the project details and your preparedness.”
  • Quantify Where Possible: Numbers can make feedback more objective. “Your sales have improved by 15% since last quarter, which significantly contributes to our team’s overall performance,” offers clear, measurable evidence of success.
  • Avoid Ambiguity: Avoid what I like to call ‘blur words’—terms that are so vague they could mean anything to anyone. Words like “better,” “more,” or “faster” without context are feedback fluff. Being vague in feedback is like saying, ‘It’s somewhere on Earth’ when asked where you live. Instead of ‘be more professional,’ try ‘maybe don’t wear flip-flops to client meetings, even if they are your good ones.’
  • Use “I” Statements: Reduce defensiveness by speaking from your perspective. “I feel that when meetings start late, it impacts our team’s productivity. Let’s find ways to ensure we start on time.”

By adopting these strategies, your feedback becomes a tool for precision improvement, akin to using a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer. It’s about guiding with clarity and supporting growth, turning potentially deflating sessions into empowering discussions that pave the way for genuine improvement.

Tip #4 – Focus on the Behavior, Not the Person

Navigating the feedback landscape requires a careful balance. Like a tightrope walker, you must move forward precisely, ensuring not to tip too far into personal criticism. Here are three ways to keep your balance and ensure the message lands safely:

  • Frame Feedback Constructively: Instead of pointing fingers, frame your feedback in a way that opens the door to improvement. Feedback is not an opportunity to play the blame game. It’s about addressing behaviors, not attacking character. Instead of “You’re always so negative,” try “I’ve noticed you’ve been voicing many concerns about our projects lately. Can we talk about what’s behind that?” This approach helps keep the conversation productive and focused on solutions, not accusations.
  • Encourage a Growth Mindset: Highlight that feedback is an opportunity for growth, not a marker of failure. Emphasize the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed. “I’ve seen you tackle challenging tasks successfully before. Let’s use this to develop new strategies and skills.”
  • Separate Behavior from Identity: Make it clear that your feedback addresses specific behaviors or actions, not the individual’s worth or identity. “How the emails were handled in this instance led to some confusion. Let’s work on clear communication strategies for smoother collaboration.”

Focusing on behavior rather than the person means not starting feedback with ‘So, the problem is…you.’ It’s like trying to fix a leaky faucet by yelling at the water. It’s about polishing the gem, not condemning the stone. Remember, feedback aims to illuminate the path forward, not cast a shadow on the journey behind.

Tip #5 – Make It a Conversation

Imagine feedback as a dance rather than a tug of war. Feedback should be a two-way street, but sometimes, it feels like a roundabout with no exits. ‘I’m just going to keep talking until one of us finds a way out of this conversation.’ It’s a delicate balance of give and take, where both parties lead and follow. Here are five ways to turn feedback into a harmonious dialogue:

  • Encourage Self-Reflection: Kick off the conversation with questions that prompt self-assessment. Think of it as opening a door for them to walk through rather than pushing them through. “Looking back on this project, what are some things you think went well, and what might you do differently next time?” This approach empowers them to own their development journey. They often self-reflect on ways to improve without any prompts from me.
  • Show Empathy: Empathy is like the secret sauce in feedback; it improves everything. Acknowledge their feelings and perspectives. “I can imagine handling this project was challenging given the tight deadlines. How are you feeling about it all?” This validates their experience and opens up a space for honest conversation.
  • Maintain a Positive Tone: Think of your tone as the setting on your feedback microwave. Too high, and it burns; too low, and it’s ineffectual. Aim for warmth and support with a dash of encouragement. “I appreciate the creativity you brought to this project. Let’s explore how we can build on that success and tackle the areas where we faced challenges.” The way a conversation starts is the way it ends. Set the right tone from the beginning.
  • Listen Actively: Active listening is like turning on HD for conversations. It sharpens the image and enriches the colors. Nod, make eye contact, and paraphrase to show you’re engaged. “So, I’m hearing that you felt overwhelmed by the scope. What support do you think could help in future projects?”
  • Seek to Understand Before Being Understood: Flip the script on the old adage. Dive deep into their perspective before offering yours. “You’ve mentioned feeling overwhelmed by the project load. Tell me more about that. How can we adjust our approach moving forward?”

By making feedback a conversation, you transform it from a monologue into a dialogue, from a lecture into a collaboration. It’s not about delivering a verdict but about exploring how to elevate performance and satisfaction together. This approach enhances the feedback experience and strengthens the relationship, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and mutual respect.

Tip #6 – Create an Action Plan

Turning feedback into action is like mapping the route after deciding on the destination. Even the best intentions can get lost along the way without a clear plan. Here are the five steps to ensure the journey from feedback to improvement is smooth and straight:

  • Collaboratively Develop the Plan: Don’t dictate; collaborate. After sharing feedback, ask, “How do you feel we can address this together?” This partnership approach empowers the individual and increases their commitment to the action plan. It’s like deciding on a road trip together; everyone’s more invested when they’ve had a say in the itinerary.
  • Set SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals turn nebulous feedback into concrete action. Instead of saying, “Be more punctual,” aim for, “Let’s target arriving 5 minutes early to meetings for the next month and assess the impact on meeting productivity.”
  • Identify Resources and Support: Recognize when additional resources or support are needed to facilitate improvement. “To help you with public speaking, would you be interested in a workshop or perhaps some one-on-one coaching?”
  • Schedule Check-ins: Feedback doesn’t end with the meeting. Schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress and challenges and adjust the plan as necessary. “Let’s touch base in two weeks to see how the new project management tool works for you.”
  • Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge improvements, no matter how small. Celebrating progress motivates continued growth and reinforces the value of feedback. “I’ve noticed a significant improvement in your reports’ clarity since we discussed it. Great job!”

Following these steps transforms feedback from a dreaded interaction into a personal and professional development roadmap. It’s about setting the course, walking it together, and celebrating the milestones.

Tip #7 – End on a Positive Note

Always end the feedback session on a positive note. Highlight their strengths and express your confidence in their ability to grow and improve. “I appreciate your openness to this conversation. I know it’s not easy, but I’ve seen you tackle challenges head-on, and I’m confident you’ll excel here too.”

While it’s crucial to address areas for improvement, highlighting what someone does well can make the feedback more palatable and motivating. “Your ability to close deals has significantly contributed to our quarterly goals, and focusing on timely paperwork submission could enhance this even further,” offers a balanced view that acknowledges strengths while pointing out areas for growth.

Let’s Recap:

And there you have it! Here’s a quick recap:

  • Fostering a Feedback-Friendly Culture: Begin by cultivating an environment where feedback is accepted and embraced as a cornerstone of growth and development.
  • Make It Timely: Deliver feedback as close to the event as possible.
  • Be Specific / Focus on Evidence: Use concrete examples and quantifiable data to pinpoint improvement, ensuring clarity and avoiding ambiguity.
  • Focus on Behavior, Not the Person: Direct feedback towards actions and behaviors rather than personal attributes, promoting a constructive dialogue focused on growth rather than criticism.
  • Make It a Conversation: Engage in a two-way dialogue, encouraging self-reflection and understanding.
  • Create an Action Plan / Offer Support and Opportunities: Develop a collaborative action plan with clear, SMART goals, providing the necessary resources and support for implementation, and ensure regular check-ins to monitor progress and celebrate achievements.
  • End on a Positive Note: Conclude feedback sessions by highlighting strengths and expressing confidence in the individual’s ability to grow. This positive reinforcement encourages motivation and acknowledges their contributions while focusing on improvement areas.

Follow these tips, and you’ll turn feedback from a dreaded chore into an opportunity for growth and learning. Remember, the goal of feedback isn’t to point fingers but to build up your team and help each member reach their full potential. By making feedback timely, specific, behavior-focused, conversational, actionable, and ending on a high note, you’re not just correcting problems but fostering an environment of continuous improvement. Now, go out there and give feedback like a pro. Your team will thank you for it, maybe not today, but definitely when they see how much they’ve grown.

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