Tips for giving feedback

Feedback is a message on the behaviour and performance of someone else and is crucial when working together. Now and then you should be able to tell if someone’s work did not meet the standards, or when someone performed extremely well. Giving feedback, clear agreements and being honest towards each other are the foundation for teamwork. 

Positive and negative feedback

People often think that feedback is something negative, but giving feedback is also about giving true compliments. People often learn much more from a compliment on work they did well than from criticism on mistakes. Positive feedback is very motivating. Negative feedback on the contrary is more difficult, but well-placed feedback at the right moment helps somebody to improve their work. 

In short the goals of feedback are:

  • Acknowledge and stimulate positive behaviour
  • Correct negative behaviour
  • Increasing the understanding of each other’s behaviour

Ways to give feedback

How would you like to be addressed? Nobody likes a reproach, certainly not when everyone is around. Remember: it is not about what you say, but how you say it. The tone makes the music! So do not reproach your colleague, but approach them decently as you are doing this to help them. Take into account when someone is addressing you with feedback, they do it to help and not to hurt you. 

Tips on giving feedback

Below follow 7 useful tips on giving feedback:

1: Describe changeable behaviour

You should always give feedback on how something is done instead of how somebody is as a person. Only describe the behaviour that people can actually change. For example when somebody is talking too softly during a meeting and you cannot hear it, you are allowed to say something about it. 

2: Use an I-message

An I-message is: “I cannot concentrate when you talk so loudly”

A you-message is: “You talk too loud”

A you-message tells; “you are doing something wrong”. An I-message tells: “I would like to see it differently, can we talk about it?” An I-message invites the receiver to understand your situation, while a you-message forces the other a defence mode. 

3: Describe concrete and specific behaviour that you have seen or heard yourself

Feedback containing the words ‘always’ or ‘everywhere’ or ‘never’, does not work. The one receiving the feedback can easily say that this is not (always) the case. This cause the feedback to turn into a yes-no dispute. Your feedback should be concrete (for example ’15 minutes too late) and specific (for example ‘yesterday’). Ensure when giving feedback you have always seen or heard the situation yourself. Feedback based on confidential information from others – or even chit-chat – will destroy more than you like. The other can deny it and wants to know immediately who said it to you.

4: Tell what effect the behaviour of someone else has on you

Let your feelings speak. This is a lot easier when you use the I-message. It is about the issues you experience as a result of the other’s behaviour rather than what the other person exactly did. You need something from the other person and you should be able to name it. Because the other person needs to know in order to understand you and your feedback. “Because you were too late for the third time, I got the feeling you are not taking your job seriously. In addition, the rest of the team had to work overtime to finish it. I find that annoying.”

You can rightly say what thoughts are provoked by the other one’s behaviour. In this way your colleague can empathise with you. 

5: Allow your receiver (colleague) to react

Give the other some time to react. Just be quiet for a moment, even if it might be difficult in your excitement. Ask if the other one remembers the incident the same way you did. If not, substantiate your message with additional examples. Dare to ask for a response: “Do you understand what I mean?”. 

6: Request the desired behaviour

You would like the other to change his or her behaviour. Help them in understanding by clearly stating what you want: “I would like you to be on time, so you are there when we discuss the division of roles and we can all start together. It allows us to start the evening calmer and better.”  

7: Explore causes and solutions

When your receiver is agreeing with you that he or she should change his or her behaviour or work attitude, you could talk about causes and solutions. Ask open questions to explore what causes the behaviour. This way you allow room for the other to explain his or her behaviour. Do not complete the other one’s sentences. Make clear that you would like to help where needed.

Some other tips to conclude

  • Give feedback when your worst anger and shock is gone
  • Do not wait too long, as the other might forget where you are talking about
  • Follow the tips from the list above and write down possible answers as preparation
  • Sit somewhere privately and give feedback in a quiet place (not in the canteen where your other colleagues are lunching) 
  • Be open and vulnerable, listen well and be honest. Have respect for each other.