How to give feedback: 9 top tips & more

someone giving feedback to a colleague

So, you’re a people manager, but giving feedback isn’t your cup of tea? You’re not alone! Many managers find themselves in roles where they haven’t experienced good feedback themselves or don’t feel equipped to give it, yet it’s crucial for team growth and success.

In this blog, we’ll explore how to give feedback well. It can make a world of difference to your team’s engagement and performance.

The Power of Feedback in the Workplace

Alright, let’s kick things off by tackling the big question: Why bother with feedback? Simply because it’s the life-blood of both engagement and performance. It’s about much more than just pointing out what’s wrong – in fact feedback should also be pointing out what’s right! 
Effective feedback boosts productivity, builds a positive work culture, and encourages professional growth.  
A study by Gallup found that employees who receive regular feedback are more engaged. In fact, the stats are eye-opening – those who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less. Engagement isn’t just about feeling good; it’s about performing well. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to experience stress or burnout. (Source: Gallup
An HBR article “your employees want the negative feedback you hate to give” highlights that a staggering 72% of employees believe their performance would improve with more feedback.

Why? Because feedback provides clarity. It’s like having a satnav in a maze; it helps employees understand where they are, where they need to go, and how to get there. When people know what’s expected of them, they can focus their efforts and perform at their best. (Source: Harvard Business Review)

Regular, constructive feedback also fosters an environment of trust and transparency. When managers communicate openly and regularly, it builds a foundation of trust.

Feedback Isn’t Just for Annual Reviews

If you’re waiting for that once-a-year performance review to give feedback, you’re missing out on countless opportunities for growth and improvement. Feedback should be an ongoing conversation, not a yearly event.

Regular, constructive feedback helps your team adjust and grow continuously, preventing minor issues from snowballing into major problems. And as much as you might not like to give feedback, it’s even more challenging for everyone if you save it up until a performance review.

People feel they haven’t been given a chance to course-correct, feel unfairly treated and this is one of the quickest routes to disengagement.

9 Top Tips for Giving Feedback

How do you give feedback that’s effective and doesn’t end up demotivating your team? Here are 9 top tips:

  1. Be specific: Vague feedback doesn’t help anyone. Be clear about what was done well or what needs improvement. Instead of “Great work!” try “Great report! It was clear, succinct and your evidence was compelling.”

  2. Focus on the Behaviour, Not the Person: This one’s crucial. Critique the action, not the individual. This helps in keeping the conversation professional and focused on improvement. Avoid “You’re just too talkative” and try “In the meeting this morning, I noticed a few times when you interrupted the others. I know you’re keen to contribute, which I appreciate. But done consistently, it might feel that they’re not being heard – which will impact their relationship with you. I don’t want that to happen, as I’m sure you don’t. Next meeting, can you pause a little before you jump in?”

  3. Timing is Everything: Provide feedback as close to the event as possible. Delayed feedback can lose its relevance and impact.

  4. Balance the positive with the constructive: Don’t just focus on what went wrong. Highlight the positives too. It doesn’t need to be in the same conversation – let’s avoid the feedback sandwich, it doesn’t work – but over time aim for more positive than constructive.

  5. Make it a two-way street: Ask for their perspective and be open to discussing the situation. A simple “What are your thoughts?” can go a long way.

  6. Set clear expectations: Clarify what good performance looks like. This sets a benchmark for future feedback and improvement. It’s way harder to give feedback if you haven’t made it clear what you’re expecting in the first place.

  7. Tailor your approach: Different team members may require different approaches to feedback. Be flexible and adapt your style to suit individual needs. Some might only like a ‘thimble’ full. Just one piece of feedback at a time. Others might prefer a ‘bucket’ and thrive on plenty of information. You’ll also find some are more open to very clear, direct feedback, whilst others need it to be more subtle.  This could depend on anything from their personal preferences, to what’s going on for them, to their cultural background. If in doubt, ask!

  8. Offer solutions and support if needed, or use the opportunity to coach: Don’t just point out what’s wrong. Offer practical solutions or guidance on how to improve. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s more effective to coach people and ask: “What will you change next time?” “What ideas do you have?”

  9. Follow up: Feedback shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation. After sharing the feedback (and listening to their perspective) ask when would be a good time to check back in and review progress. Note, that’s check in, not check up. There’s a big difference! It shows that it matters and is much more likely to get results.   

Handling Resitance to Feedback

Sometimes, your feedback might meet resistance. Here’s how to handle it:

  • Stay calm: Keep your cool, even if the other person gets defensive. It’s natural if they do, being on the receiving end of feedback can feel like a threat, even if not meant that way.

  • Listen: Sometimes, resistance stems from feeling misunderstood. Ensure you’re listening to their concerns and giving them space to talk and share their perspective. Summarise what you’ve heard, “it sounds like you disagree” and then pause and let them share more. Being heard is a great way to lower resistance.

  • Be curious: Ask non-judgemental questions to find out more. “Tell me more about …” before wading in with any counter-arguments

Effective feedback is about building up, not tearing down. It’s about opening doors to communication and improvement and creating a positive and productive work environment. Giving feedback can feel challenging. Not many people relish it. Start by mastering these tips, and read our blog on “How to have a challenging conversation” for more insights.

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