5 Tips for Giving Better Feedback

Google “feedback is a gift” and you’ll find enough quotes to fill a high school yearbook. While skeptics might disagree, there’s no denying it: providing direct feedback is one of the most powerful tools managers have for developing staff. In this article of our feedback series, we share our most important tips for giving feedback.

  1. Don’t try to hide it. This isn’t like sneaking spinach into a mango smoothie to get someone to eat more vegetables. First of all, they’ll know because the smoothie will be brown. Second of all, you can’t trick someone into receiving feedback. Instead, be clear when you’re about to give feedback, even if that means adopting a go-to phrase to initiate it (whether in-person, on the phone, or by email) every time. Examples:
    • “I have some feedback on X! Can I share it?”
    • “I’m concerned X isn’t on track. Can we schedule a time today to talk about it?”
  2. Do systematize it. If you’re someone who feels very stressed or awkward about giving feedback, systematizing is a must. If you wait until feedback is urgent, you’ll miss several opportunities to give it. More importantly, systematizing feedback helps you mitigate bias. We tend to feel more comfortable sharing feedback with people who are like us or to whom we feel close. This means that—unless you intentionally choose otherwise—your staff who have marginalized identities that are different from yours probably receive less feedback overall. Less feedback = fewer opportunities to grow! Here are ways to systematize:
    • Put a “feedback” or “lessons” bullet in your check-in agenda so it’s just part of what you discuss each week.
    • For projects, get in the habit of scheduling debriefs.
    • If you’re onboarding a new staff member or starting a new manager/staff relationship, build in giving (and soliciting) feedback from the start, so it becomes normal.
  3. Don’t give praise and corrective feedback at the same time. Sometimes, managers try to “soften the blow” of criticism with praise. This usually comes off as insincere. Even if the praise is real, it gets lost amid the corrective feedback because people tend to overweight the negative.  The one exception to this tip is if you’ve systematized to the point where it’s expected that you give both praise and corrective feedback in the same sitting—if that’s the case, keep it up!
  4. Do separate outcome from effort (and recognize it!). You can give corrective feedback on an outcome that didn’t meet expectations while acknowledging the effort that went into it. Communicate that you value the time and labor spent and partner to achieve better results in the future (“I know that you worked really hard on pulling off this event. I think the registration process took a little longer than either of us expected, so let’s talk about how we can improve on that in the future.”).
  5. Don’t forget to model receptivity to feedback. Periodically invite feedback from your staff, or share your own self-reflection. You can do this generally (“Is there anything I could be doing differently?”) and specifically (“I didn’t set aside enough time to prepare for X, and as a result, Y happened.”). Not only is this an opportunity to practice and model self-awareness, a growth mindset, and vulnerability, it can also help your staff be more receptive to getting feedback and more willing to share it with you.

Check out the other articles in our feedback series: