Giving feedback is giving gifts

How to give feedback (with examples)

Ivo Valchev
Management Matters


Photo by Ann H from Pexels

Have you ever received feedback that has shocked and surprised you? Has anyone told you you’re not doing something right in a manner that was upsetting and conflicting? Chances are it was not you, it was them.

A recent Harvard Business Review study shows that negative feedback is a psychological threat and leads to anxiety and depression, and rarely leads to improvement. Yet, 92% of respondents in a different study agree that correctly delivered feedback can improve performance. Overwhelmingly people want constructive feedback, including 72% of employees under 30. So, how does one give quality feedback?

❌ You are not good at […].

✅ It really helped us seeing the three solutions that you outlined in yesterday’s meeting. Our next team meeting can be much more effective in addressing […] if we know the causes of the issue we need to take a decision on. In your presentation, can you prepare a slide or two to talk about how many of our clients are affected and what is their level of frustration?

Understand feedback

As Matthew Gould, co-author of Lead from Your Heart: The Art of Relationship-based Leadership, puts it: there’s no good feedback or bad feedback. There’s just feedback.

So, what is feedback anyway?

Feedback = gift. Feedback is a gift. Being in any relationship, I need to know how it is going, how am I doing? What do we need more of and less of for it to work?

Any feedback that we receive is a gift: it is another person’s observation of what we do. Sure, as with any other gift, sometimes it is what we expect and sometimes not so much. A gift can be exactly what you needed at that moment, or something you hope you got the receipt for to return it the next day. To give any useful gift, including the gift of feedback, you need to know and appreciate the person you are giving it to.

Your feedback only counts if it makes things better

The purpose of feedback is to change behaviour in order to make things better. You need to frame your feedback in a way that improves outcomes.

What that means is when giving feedback or addressing a situation, your primary purpose needs to be making things better. Resolving a conflict that is keeping the team down, finding a pathway to get through a difficult situation, or figuring out how to recognise and award top performers.

What are the ingredients of feedback gifts that make things better?

While many people understand and appreciate feedback, not everyone who says they want it are excited to hear it out. Whenever you are giving feedback, treat it as a gift to the person even if it is not appreciated as such. After all, how many of us liked getting clothes as presents from our grandparents? Yet, in retrospect most of us recognise these gifts too were useful.

Give feedback often enough

In her book, the Making of Manager, Julie Zhuo recommends to give two types of feedback based on frequency:

  • Give task-specific feedback a lot. Every time you see a person in action, see if you have something useful to tell them. Compliment them on a concrete thing that they did well, suggest even small improvements, or pass long someone else’s feedback to that person.
  • Give behavioural feedback monthly, or perhaps a few times a quarter. This helps guide the person through their career. That type of feedback is more long-term and needs to be founded upon who they want to become and their own career growth over time. It also allows you to tackle more persistent issues and discuss trends and tendencies.

Any feedback needs an Action, Impact and Improvement.

The action is the specific event, result or behaviour that prompted you to give feedback. It can be something as simple as late attendance at the daily meeting, or related to a person’s desire to grow in an area of the business.

Actions are concrete instances of a given behaviour, they are not generalised observations on someone’s character. Remember: the goal is not to attack someone’s character (to which anyone will instinctively react defensively), but to make things better.

❌ You are late for team meetings.

✅ You came several minutes late to yesterday’s daily catch-up.

Or, even positive examples:

❌ You do presentations well.

✅ Those slides that you showed the board last week were very understanding of the board’s high-level overview of our activities here.

Impact is the key element of why your feedback matters. In a way, if action was the occasion prompting the feedback, impact is the reason for it. In giving feedback on a positive behaviour, the impact is the good performance that you want to recognise and reward. In the cases when you want improvements, impact is the pain point that your feedback addresses. Remember: impact needs to be perceived as important, or else it loses its purpose.

Let’s expand the previous examples:

❌ You are late for team meetings, but I am someone who is very punctual about starting on time.

✅ You came several minutes late to yesterday’s daily catch-up. By not starting on time, we had to cut the meeting short since colleagues had to leave early in order to attend a customer call.

The last piece of giving actionable feedback is improvement: the masterpiece of feedback, as it is the outline of a material change going forward. It is the essence of any feedback that makes things better. Suggesting an improvement moves the conversation from distributing blame to working together to find a resolution. Be aware that any suggested improvement is just that. It opens up the conversation, where the person on the receiving end can share their own perspective. Giving feedback is listening.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Here’s our revised examples:

❌ You are late for team meetings, but I am someone who is very punctual about starting on time. You must show up early next time.

✅ You came several minutes late to yesterday’s daily catch-up. By not starting on time, we had to cut the meeting short since colleagues had to leave early in order to attend a customer call. To address this going forward, is it necessary that you move your earlier meeting by 15 minutes, so that you can join us on time?

In fact, the example above raises an additional feature of quality feedback: the outcome is non-negotiable. In this case, coming on time for a meeting involving several people is indeed non-negotiable, but the way of achieving this — either moving earlier meetings or just inviting the person to be more punctual in their scheduling, can be discussed and agreed. While this is a helpful tip for task-oriented feedback, make sure not to overdo it in long-term improvement goals. The latter require commitment and motivation on both sides of the conversation.

You don’t need to be perfect at giving feedback to give feedback

Last tip of the day is, like much else in life, you don’t need to be the best at giving feedback in order to do so. In fact, you will only become better by doing it more often. Better yet? Ask your own colleagues, superiors and reports on how you are doing. Perhaps they have feedback on your giving feedback? 😉

Thank you for making it all the way down here. Make sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, add me on LinkedIn to keep in touch.

Thanks, till next time. 😉