Feedback is a vital element of our personal and professional development. But in order for input to have tangible benefits, two principles must be followed. First, it must be supportive. The fact is, there’s a huge difference between feedback and criticism. Feedback is helpful and constructive; criticism is hurtful and damaging. Second, input alone won’t amount to anything if the recipient doesn’t modify their behavior accordingly. Listed below are tips to make feedback a more effective and rewarding experience for both giver and recipient.
18 Ways to Give Better Feedback
Setting the Stage
Make your input count. Give guidance that is factual –– based on hard evidence — rather than emotional; is even-handed –– examines both sides of an issue; is balanced –– sees the positive and the negative; and is open-minded –– free from personal bias.
Make the feedback timely. Offer input soon after an activity rather than weeks or months later. This will ensure that the feedback is relevant and helpful.
Give feedback in person. Input doesn’t have to be formal, but it should be made a priority. For that reason, it’s important to give input face-to-face, or via “Skype” if necessary, rather than by e-mail or text. This will enhance communication by providing a more personal and immediate two-way dialog and will enable each party to gauge the other’s body language.
Give feedback prior thought. Know the key points that you want to make rather than shooting from the hip.
Provide advance notification. Don’t blindside the recipient by catching them off guard. Furthermore, ease into the conversation rather than hitting them with a two-by-four.
Respect the recipient’s other priorities. Catch the recipient during a peaceful time of day, so that they’re emotionally available. Remember, being present is not the same as being there.
Refrain from multitasking. Before providing feedback, secure the recipient’s undivided attention –– free from distractions.
Build people up rather than tearing them down. Compliment people in public; present their shortcomings in private. Avoid shaming or threatening the recipient at all costs.
Focus on the act. Base your input on the recipient’s actions rather than on demeaning the person.
Be constructive. Make your input actionable rather than general.
Be honest and direct. Tell it like it is. This will ensure that nothing is left to the imagination. Furthermore, if your feedback is always glowing, compliments will be less credible.
Praise, the right way. A compliment is great — when it offers specifics about what the person is doing right or areas where they’ve improved.
Present the facts. Feedback should always come from firsthand experience rather than something you heard via a third party.
Encourage meaningful communication. Make feedback a two-way conversation rather than a lecture. Furthermore, the reviewer and recipient must communicate with each other rather than just taking turns talking. And — please give the recipient ample time to respond.
Be conscious of what goes unsaid. Read between the lines. A recipient who is silent could still be sending you a loud message.
After the Fact
Confirm understanding. Make sure you and the recipient are on the same page before ending the conversation.
Establish an action plan. Offer suggestions for improvement and expectations going forward.
Follow up. Establish a specific time to review actions taken and progress being made.
Are You Open to Feedback?
Some people avoid feedback like the plague. They think that if they don’t know their flaws, they don’t have any. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these folks make the same mistakes over and over again. Other people evade constructive feedback by surrounding themselves with yes people. They’d rather receive confirmation of their own ideas than be challenged by opposing views. While that might do wonders for their ego, it does little to advance their cause. The fact is, surrounding yourself with yes people is like talking to yourself.
Feedback should be welcomed rather than feared. In fact, we should thank folks who make the effort to nurture us with their valuable input –– even if it hurts at times. How do you expect to become a better person if you don’t know where to begin? The truth is, practice doesn’t make perfect if you’re doing it wrong. Feedback enables us to learn about our shortcomings and take corrective action. Don’t bury your head…nourish it. That’s how excellence is born.
What Are Your Thoughts?
How Do You React to Negative Feedback
How to Give Feedback
Make Experience Your Best Teacher
Make Personal Development a Priority
Critical Lessons That They Fail to Teach You in School
How to Learn from the Mistakes of Other People
Why Learn the Hard Way
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Lucy DelSarto says
Great post Frank! We have more ways to communicate but are losing the ability to communicate well. Have you heard of “Ghosting”? New term I learned about last week. It’s simply cutting off communication with someone without a reason or explanation. How cold is that!
As a coach for over 30 years, I completely agree with your points – I’ll be sharing the post.
Frank Sonnenberg says
As a professional athlete and coach I’m sure you know that feedback to critical in raising your game. Regarding feedback, my hope is that folks look in the mirror and see how they’re defeating themselves in the process.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment and and for sharing this post.
Good thoughts here Frank. I work with a very strong manager right now, but one who is off-site and our abilities to connect face-to-face are limited and rare. So at the onset of this working relationship, it was a bit challenging to receive any feedback via email – small or substantial, but such had to be the case more times than not. It became easier, like most things, once trust and respect were mutually earned. I still love the part where you emphasis how feedback can be informal, but it heightens the meaning and priority when it’s interpersonal vs. via text or email. I’m sure the same can be stressed outside of work…I recall a few recent-era sit-coms or movies that used a plotline about being broken-up with via text, email…or even a post-it note. Nothing shows you care less than …words without context, syntax, feeling, emotion, presence, eye contact, etc, etc.
I also remember a recent event where I personally feared feedback, after a mtg that I thought I was less than ideally prepped for and therefore didn’t feel I presented my ‘best self’. My manager was on the conference via phone while my team and the clients were in person. I ended up prefacing what I thought was going to be negative feedback from my mgr with a proactive email that was being too hard on myself – when all she had to say was the call quality was bad and to move the phone closer next time I talked. Ideally, I try to be open to all feedback, but I think there are times when we do fear it – for myself, it tends to be when I’m likely being harder on myself than others would normally be (aka ‘my own worst critic’).
Thanks for the good read on a great topic!
Frank Sonnenberg says
It’s great hearing from you. I have two thoughts…First, it’s very common to have reporting relationships in far flung locations. If possible, I suggest a quick video chat, rather than text or e-mail, to discuss sensitive issues. Second, the fact that you demand a lot from yourself says a lot about you and your character. I’m also tough on myself. Growing up, my parents were less concerned that I receive As than whether I did my best. A problem occurs when people take that philosophy too far –– and beat themselves up. That’s neither wise nor productive.
Thanks again for your thoughts.
Ivette Caballero says
Hi Frank! Another super helpful and practical post of yours, thank you for sharing. You clearly and effectively explained the difference between feedback and criticism. I believe that we need to embrace feedback more and more, and learn how to apply it, give it, and receive it, too in order to create a better workplace, happier families, and better society in general.
Have an excellent week!!! Ivette Caballero
Frank Sonnenberg says
It’s great to hear from you. I hope that life is treating you well 🙂
Your comment is right on the mark!
Most people who make it to the top of their game do so, in part, by viewing feedback as an opportunity to better themselves — rather than as criticism or a cause for embarrassment. They know that lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.
Thanks for taking the time to write.