Give Feedback That Makes a Difference

December 2010

A colleague recently told me, “My boss gave me what he called constructive feedback yesterday, but it was vague and confusing. What should I do?”

As a management training expert, I can tell you this situation is not unusual. And in the true holiday spirit of giving, let’s have a frank discussion about what giving feedback means.

First, feedback is essentially a gift that the giver is providing to an employee, colleague, or friend. Essentially, you are hoping to share information that I feel will help the recipient be more successful.

But just like giving a poorly thought-out gift, if the feedback vague, contradictory, or not well thought out, it will not be used. If it is bad enough, it can damage a relationship.

Since this is the month of gift-giving, I encourage you to think of feedback as a sweater and scarf set that you’d give a friend to keep them warm during chilly days.

Specifically, make sure your feedback contains the following components:

1. The feedback giver needs to be perceived as credible, trustworthy and not have a hidden agenda. Ask yourself: Is the feedback I about to share truly in the spirit of trying to help? Or am I giving feedback to undermine the recipient’s self-confidence or to misinform? Am I knowledgeable enough on the subject or situation that what I convey can be trusted?

2. The feedback must be given in a timely manner and in an appropriate location. Feedback given days after the fact and in a public setting can only hurt. The old adage “praise public, correct private” sums it up.

3. Feedback sessions should always be a dialogue, not monologue. This is why email is such a lousy way to do it. The conversation must be interactive.

4. The message must be clear and actionable. Nothing is more frustrating than being told information and not knowing what to do with it. Every feedback session should end with you knowing what to start doing or stop doing.

*So what do you do when the feedback is poor? *

You have two choices: either go back to the person and ask for clarity or ignore it. You never want to guess and take action if the message is unclear for risk that you may make the situation even worse.

And while we are in the holiday spirit of giving, keep in mind these components for giving good feedback when you offer someone advice. How good is your feedback? Is it like a beautiful cashmere scarf the receiver will wear proudly or is it more like the brick of fruitcake you have hiding in the back cupboard from last holiday season?

Feedback Self Evaluation Worksheet

Condition: I am considered a credible source

Assessment: Why?

Condition: I am considered trustworthy

Assessment: Why?

Condition: I convey feedback with good intentions

Assessment: How?

Condition: My feedback timing and circumstances are appropriate

Assessment: How?

Condition: My feedback is given in a personal and interactive manner

Assessment: How?

Condition: My feedback message is clear

Assessment: What is it?

Condition: My feedback is perceived to be helpful to the receiver

Assessment: Why?