Giving Effective Feedback

“We believe we do a better job at
giving feedback than we really do.”
~ Rick Maurer



Lately, for a variety of reasons, I’ve found myself engaged in a lot more conversations about feedback.  Many individuals – clients, colleagues, friends, and even family members – have expressed a strong interest in learning how to be more skillful and effective when giving feedback.

The key words are “skillful” and “effective”!

Feedback delivered in any other manner can have a very negative – even damaging – impact.  We’ve likely all been on the receiving end of this kind of poor communication at some point in our lives, and know how detrimental it can be.  What’s more, the person delivering the feedback typically thinks they’re being helpful, often assuming that what’s said is also being fully heard.

The truth is, if people feel threatened, attacked or angered by poorly delivered feedback, they often tune out.  When strong emotions are present, it becomes nearly impossible to listen well enough to grasp the significance of what’s said.

On the other hand, if feedback is provided skillfully, it can have a tremendous, positive impact on a person’s performance.  iStock_000017685398XSmall FeedbackIndividuals who learn to influence others in this way engender more respect and trust by “encouraging the heart” and creating a safer, more emotionally healthy experience for everyone.

If the intention in providing feedback is to help an individual learn and grow – while building and preserving the relationship – then it behooves us all to learn how to do it carefully!

To become more skillful and demonstrate that you do care, the following Ten Guidelines for Giving Effective Feedback* have proven to be quite helpful. When practiced consistently, the feedback process should become far more effective – and everyone’s experience far less painful.

Ten Guidelines for Giving Effective Feedback*

1.  Direct feedback toward behavior one can do something about, not the person.

Information about what a person does helps that person make choices about their behavior.

Assessments about a person’s “personality traits” or “personal qualities”, on the other hand, usually increase their defensiveness.  (E.g., “You arrived ten minutes late” vs. “You’re irresponsible.”)

2.  Take the needs of the receiver into account first.

Focus the feedback on the value and usefulness it may provide to the receiver rather than the “release” it provides the giver, i.e., you.

E.g.  “I greatly value our working relationship … my intention in having this conversation with you is to see what we can both do to make it even better”.

“Feedback is not always easy to receive so I’m going to do my best to make it enjoyable for both of us!”

Think empathically.  Be intentional.

3.  Make use of “I” Statements to let the receiver know how you perceive, experience or feel about the behavior.  Avoid “we” or “most people” statements.

By saying, “I get frustrated when I see, hear, think…” you help promote a productive dialogue.  No one can dispute that that’s how you feel!

Whereas saying “You make me upset” or “You are so impossible …!” is more likely to lead to an argument and less communication.

Know your desired outcome.  Aim to inspire a shared vision.  Try sharing a story of your own personal struggle with something challenging.

4.  Focus on what was said and done (actions) rather than why it was said or done (motives).

Feedback that relates to what, how, when, and where is based on observable events; while opinions or judgments about the other’s motive or intent relates to interpretations and conclusions drawn from what was observed.

Think Columbo: Talk about “the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  Pay close attention to your tone of voice and body language.

5.  Make feedback descriptive rather than evaluative and judgmental.

By giving an objective description of what occurred and your reactions to the situation, you leave the receiver free to use the feedback as he/she sees appropriate.  Being judgmental entails a subjective evaluation of the other based on your personal values.

Separate the person from the problem.  Stay focused on the issue.

6.  Make feedback specific rather than general and abstract.

Feedback is generally more useful if it can be tied to a specific time, place and action.

It is far more useful to say, “I noticed that you broke in twice while I was speaking during the meeting” than “You are always interrupting people.”

Give examples. Be specific.

7.  Share information rather than give advice.

To give advice takes away a person’s freedom of choice as well as responsibility for future actions.

8.  Be sensitive to timing and selection.

It is important that the giver of feedback be sensitive to both when it is appropriate to give feedback and how much to give the receiver.

The receiver needs to be ready to hear and deal with the data.  Only give an amount a person can use.

9.  Check whether the receiver understood your feedback.

One way of doing this is to ask the receiver to rephrase the feedback to see if it corresponds to what the sender had in mind.

10. Request what you’d like them to do differently.

Your request lets them know exactly what you are asking them to do.  They are free to accept, decline, or counter-propose.  You can’t change them, yet by asking, you help them see what you think they could do to help the situation.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of the Ten Guidelines for Giving Effective Feedback*

*Adapted from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Office of Human Capital Management “Short Guide to Giving & Receiving Feedback” 


This month’s practice:

Think of an individual you know who could benefit from skillfully and effectively delivered feedback. Reflect on what you (or others) have said or done to date. Then read through the ten guidelines and consider whether (or not) these steps have been applied.

  • Notice where you need to develop greater competency and aim to focus your attention there first.  Wait until you are best able to manage your emotions and delivery. Otherwise, the process won’t work as well.
  • For example: Sometimes it’s simply about getting clear on your intention:  is it to preserve and build the relationship – or simply to let the other individual know how frustrated you are?!
  • Think empathically – how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the feedback? How would you like it to be presented to you?

The bottom line is:  Know what your desired outcome is and remember – always – to speak in terms of behavior.  That’s what we can all change.


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