How to give good feedback

Let’s talk about feedback and how to give good feedback. Often giving feedback means that there is something that needs to be done differently with room for improvement and this means people worry about having a feedback conversation. Luckily, you can develop your feedback skills and learn how to give good feedback. This article shares some insights and tips for feedback conversations. 

When talking about giving feedback, the goal often is to encourage a change in behaviour, performance or output. Positive feedback is much easier to give and is often referred to as praise rather than feedback. That means giving feedback is often seen as something negative which could mean a difficult conversation with the potential for disagreement or even conflict. 

What is feedback?

Firstly, let’s examine what Feedback is: it is the sharing of an opinion on the quality of someone’s work or of a situation based on a judgement made about that work or situation (good, bad or middling). The judgement leaders make will be based on a set of expectations and from an individual perspective.

Generally, leaders will see a situation or a piece of work, make a judgement (consciously or subconsciously), form an opinion (consciously) and when they share that with the employee, they are giving feedback.

What impacts the quality of feedback

The quality of that feedback will depend very much on the leader’s general level of awareness; this includes their awareness of the context of the work or situation (situational awareness), awareness of external factors, awareness of the other person and their self-awareness. 

Consider the following for situations:

  • Giving feedback
  • Receiving feedback
  • Observing feedback.

Wider context of the situation

How much effort has the leader taken to understand the context around the work delivered or the situation? By this, I mean the various perspectives of the people involved, the different levels of understanding of the assignment/strategy/plan etc. Have they made an effort to understand if there have been any external factors that have had an impact? In short, what questions have they asked and how have they listened to the answers? The quality of both questioning and listening can greatly affect the quality of the feedback conversation. 

Individual experience

How has the leader checked in with the individual? Have they made an effort to find out what is going on with them? How they themselves feel about the work and outcomes? Their own assessment of the quality and any challenges that they faced while doing the work?

Own bias, beliefs and filters

Finally and importantly, how self-aware is the leader? Have they considered how their own perceptual filters (beliefs, values, previous experience) have influenced their opinion in a positive or negative way? In simple terms, have they looked at it with an open mind?

Is the leader aware of the assumptions made in forming the judgement and opinion? Particularly when you lack information, for example on context, your brain will ‘helpfully’ fill in the blanks for you. 

Checking assumptions and quick conlusions

This leads to making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. And these always come up when discussing the feedback with the employee. This is where things get difficult. This is where an employee may become defensive. Because the (implied) assumptions/conclusions are incorrect in their eyes, based on context or their understanding. 

This leads to the leader feeling challenged on their feedback, and pretty soon you have a negatively spiralling feedback conversation! Therefore the leader has to make more effort in understanding the context, so that the conversation starts from a level point. 

Turn assumptions into questions

To give feedback effectively, in a constructive way so that it is heard, the leader can use self-awareness around any assumptions they made to turn those into questions. 

Stick to the facts

Furthermore, it really helps to stick to factual information which can reduce the level of opinion, judgement and therefore potential bias through filters within the feedback. 

Be open-minded to others’ experiences

The challenge always is that in a feedback situation there are two or more individuals with their own, very individual and unique experience and perspective of the situation. Awareness of that fact, combined with a curiosity about how others see things, and a mindset open to multiple possibilities, will help create feedback conversations that make a difference. 

Asking questions and actively listening to make sure you start the feedback conversation from a common understanding of the work/situation and the context means everyone involved can form new perspectives on how the situation might have been handled differently, or the work completed differently. 

Giving good feedback

That might mean the feedback changes and it will certainly mean the employee feels heard, understood and has an opportunity to learn. 

Asking questions and listening are vastly underused and undervalued tools!

Check your assumptions, gather context and information through questioning and listening and have a constructive conversation that will make everyone involved feel valued and heard.

If you’d like to learn more, let’s talk! Get in touch and schedule a conversation that will make a difference to you, here.

External resources

If you’d like to read more articles from different perspectives and with practical tips, here are some good ones to read:

Feedback to boost people’s confidence from Mindtools

5 practical steps for feedback by The Muse

Giving feedback people can use by Harvard Business Review