Feedback is most useful when it gives the recipient something concrete to assess their own performance or behaviour against. To do this, you need to reflect on past situations and behaviours before giving feedback. Here are some tips to get you started.

Frame the feedback in terms of behaviours, not fixed characteristics

Behaviour is changeable, personality traits far less so. It's more actionable to receive feedback on how you've behaved in the past than on who you are as a person. Avoid making assumptions about why someone behaved the way they did and focus on what you observed instead.

Example

Instead of giving this feedback:

"You can be rather bossy. People are afraid to speak up because you dominate the discussion."

Try:

"When speaking with new co-workers, I've noticed that you express your opinions in a way that can come off as demanding. I’ve observed that this might be making some of them less likely to voice their own opinions."

Offer examples of specific situations where the behaviour occurred

Don't generalise. People are much more likely to take your feedback on board if you can point to specific examples where you've observed a behaviour and what its impact was. It gives people something concrete to reflect on.

Example

Instead of giving this feedback:

"You always seem so unengaged during meetings that it's hard to know whether you're really listening."

Try:

"In the last team planning meeting, I noticed that you were on your phone a lot and you left early. This made me unsure whether you were clear about your responsibilities for this project."

Make suggestions and observations gently

Feedback isn't an order or a command. There's always some degree of subjectivity in feedback. Your language should reflect that. Using phrases like "I think" or "I would suggest that..." shows that you're offering your opinion, not imposing it.

Example

Instead of giving this feedback:

"Please try to contribute more in group brainstorming sessions."

Try:

"Sometimes, during brainstorming sessions, it looks like you have something to share but you don't speak up. It would be great if you spoke up on these occasions, as I think you have some great ideas."

Enhance positive feedback

Positive feedback benefits from context as well. Describing specific examples shows what it was about a past behaviour or action that was praiseworthy. This makes people more likely to internalise the feedback and be motivated to achieve even more.

Example

Instead of giving this feedback:

"It's so great that you're always flexible and willing to go the extra mile."

Try:

"Your flexibility has really helped our team out in the past. Like last week, when you took on that customer at the last minute because Sarah was sick. I'm almost certain that was instrumental to helping us close the sale with the prospect."

Article: Receiving and reflecting on feedback
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