Feedback can be difficult and often results in more stress than support. However, with specific practice and a kind approach, feedback can be done well. Check out these top 10 tips for strengthening your feedback skills!
1. It’s not about you.
The more we apply this simple truth, the less frustration we experience when offering feedback. Give feedback to serve a cause greater than yourself: your team. The goal is to improve another person’s work day, not yours.
2. It’s not about the reaction.
Do not expect people to take feedback well. Be calm, but expect some resistance and tension in the conversation. A successful feedback conversation is not measured by how well people react to the conversation, but by how much behavior changes afterward.
3. There are no apologies in feedback.
Apologies and explanations often distract from the functional purpose of feedback: to understand which words and actions we ought to or not repeat. The magic words in feedback conversations are “I’ll fix it” or “Let’s fix it”, not “I’m sorry” or “Be sorry”. Discuss what really happened until both people are specific about the words or actions worth or not worth repetition. Then commit to the fix.
4. Your words won’t fly unless you specify.
Discuss behaviors, not people. People are not well-prepared or rude by default. Presenting information without using filler words like ‘like’ or ‘um’ shows preparedness. Interrupting someone mid-sentence or checking a device mid-sentence shows rudeness. Give feedback about specific behaviors only.
5. Practice positives first.
To practice giving good quality feedback, give positive recognition and appreciation. Recognition helps us get used to hearing how we’re doing—and in a good way. Recognize people for the (often subtle) things they are already doing well. Validate helpful behaviors whenever and wherever you see them. Positive feedback is also a way better icebreaker for conference calls than “It’s <weather> here for us in <city>—it’s <temperature> for sure out there…what it’s like where you are?”
6. Ask more questions. Give fewer suggestions.
Avoid sentences that start with “You know what you should do?” or “Here’s an idea…” Ask the other person what they think they can do. Ask others for their ideas.
7. Ask permission.
This shows respect. We are more likely to see meaningful change when we invite—not invade—people for a feedback conversation. Ask permission when giving positive feedback also. If you’re sharing positive feedback with a person’s manager, it may be worth sharing with that person first. For managers especially, ask the members of your team whether they prefer to receive praise publicly or privately.
8. Resist the path of aggression (and passive-aggression).
People get defensive when they sense feedback providers are on offense. When we judge another person (even if we think justifiably), this is an offensive move. When we imagine the other person not taking our feedback very well, many of us swerve off course in avoidance. We try to avoid the frustration altogether—or so we think—and outsource the feedback through another channel. Talking to that other person’s manager behind their back is also an offensive move. This shows disrespect to the other person, the feedback loses specificity, and it often reveals we are afraid. Feedback works best when we can see each other’s faces.
9. Be real.
We do not have to rely on any buzzwords to help people understand our message. Drop the jargon and talk human-to-human. No matter how ‘mission critical’ the information, share feedback in clear language.
10. Be kind.
When we are specific and resist judging people, this is kindness. When we let go and resist holding grudges, this is kindness. When we do these acts of kindness, we place one brick on the road to calmer workplaces and a more collaborative world. Jack Kerouac describes this brick layered approach very well: “Practice kindness all day to everybody, and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”
Honorable mention for this list—Make recognition a habit. Once a week, write two sentences of recognition to a coworker. One sentence for specific behavior. One sentence for positive impact. Here’s an example:
@Great Coworker Thank you for answering my last-minute question yesterday afternoon. You took the time to not only answer me, but also walk me through how to demo the dashboard for clients.
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