Giving effective feedback is a critical skill for all team members to have. In this article, we cover 11 best practices for giving any type of feedback. Plus, get four tips to give feedback as a team manager, and five steps to give upwards feedback to a manager or leader.
If you’re uncomfortable giving feedback, you’re not alone. Even though feedback is a critical part of effective workplace communication, a lot of us don’t know how to approach feedback in a constructive way. From initiating feedback to sharing constructive criticism, knowing how to give useful feedback is a skill you can develop.
Feedback is important because it helps the other person grow and do a better job at work. Whether you’re a manager giving feedback to a direct report, a coworker giving feedback to another coworker, or a team member giving feedback to a manager, these 20 tips will help you give feedback effectively.
No matter what type of feedback you’re giving, there are 11 best practices to keep in mind. These best practices help you prepare for your feedback session and reduce miscommunication or potential negative reactions. Following these tips doesn’t mean giving feedback is effortless—we wish!—but it does set you on the path towards success.
Most importantly, make sure you’re always giving feedback in private. Public feedback can quickly turn into negative feedback, even if that isn’t your intention.
If you don’t regularly meet with the person you want to give feedback to, ask them if they have a quick minute to chat. Whenever possible, reference your discussion topics so the person comes to the meeting as prepared as possible. For example, you might say “Do you have 15 minutes to chat about the pricing presentation from yesterday?”
The goal of feedback is to help the other person improve. To do that, make sure you’re giving feedback in a timely manner. Avoid giving feedback on something that happened more than two weeks ago, since the incident is no longer timely and relevant.
In the same vein, however, avoid giving feedback immediately after something happens. In-the-moment feedback is often more negative than you might intend. Wait at least 24 hours before commenting so both you and the other person can reflect on what happened.
Before you give feedback, you need to understand the difference between constructive criticism and negative feedback:
Constructive criticism usually centers on something the person can do to improve.
Negative feedback—also known as destructive criticism or critical feedback—puts people down instead of helping them improve.
To ensure you’re giving constructive criticism rather than negative feedback, evaluate your intent. Make sure you’re approaching the feedback with the intention of helping the other person grow—even if you feel frustrated, avoid micromanaging or personally criticising someone. Also, always make sure you’re giving feedback in private—sharing feedback in public quickly turns a constructive conversation into negative feedback.
“I” statements are statements that start with “I.” When you use “I” statements, you’re focusing on your experience and opinion about the situation, rather than the person you’re speaking to. Using “I” statements also helps feedback feel like less of a blame game and more of a collaborative exercise to improve things for the future.
For example, instead of saying “You said you would get me the presentation slides on Thursday but you didn’t send them over until Monday, which made me feel unprepared for the meeting,” try something like, “I was under the impression that I would receive the presentation slides on Thursday. Was there a delay I didn’t know about?”
Even with constructive feedback and “I” statements, avoid sharing feedback about more than one or two things at a time. If you try to give feedback about too many things at once, you might accidentally trigger the other person’s defensiveness and make them less likely to receive feedback with an open mindset.
Plus, if you’re giving timely feedback, there probably won’t be that many things to talk about. It might be tempting, but avoid bringing up other feedback instances unless you need to, since that can also lead to a negative feedback session.
The goal of providing feedback is to help someone improve. This could be to help them understand something they’re good at or identify and improve an opportunity area. The more specific you can be about details and notes, the easier it is for the other person to take that feedback and turn it into action.
For example, let’s say you want to give your coworker feedback about their communication skills. Instead of saying “I think the presentation yesterday wasn’t very clear,” which is vague and could lead to miscommunication, try something like, “During yesterday’s presentation, I thought it would be helpful if you had paused more for questions. There was a lot of nuanced information, and there were times where I didn’t understand the point you were trying to make. For future presentations, I think it would be helpful if you shared the meeting slides in advance, so the meeting participants could review them and come to the meeting with questions.”Read: The best conflict resolution strategy you’re not using
One of the most common mistakes we make when we think of feedback is thinking it’s exclusively negative. It’s equally important to share what the person is doing well. That way, they have a specific idea of what they can do to improve—as well as an understanding of what they should continue doing because it’s working well.
Ah, the feedback sandwich. The feedback sandwich is an approach where you say something positive, something constructive, then something positive again. The theory is, by effectively “sandwiching” the constructive criticism in between positive feedback, you’re softening the blow. For example, you might use the feedback sandwich as follows: “Thank you for sending such a comprehensive email, but our external contractors shouldn’t have been on it since that was private company information. I appreciate the initiative, though.”
In reality the feedback sandwich is not a good feedback method. By hiding a piece of constructive feedback within positive feedback, you undermine the positive feedback. Instead, if there’s constructive feedback, be honest about it. Remember: constructive feedback is the best way for someone to grow and become a better team member. When you’re giving someone kind, constructive feedback, you’re doing them a favor—no need to wrap it up in a sandwich to disguise the message.
To transform the example above, try simply saying, “I noticed you CC’d our external contractors on the email yesterday. I’d prefer it if you check with me before emailing them, because that was intended to be internal team information only.”
Nonverbal communication is any form of communication that doesn’t involve speaking, like your body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. Being aware of your nonverbal communication can prevent miscommunication, because understanding nonverbal communication helps you more effectively encode and decode any nonverbal messages.
Encoding: Sharing your emotions or thoughts nonverbally, through your body language, tone of voice, gestures, and eye contact. For example, meeting someone’s eye when you’re reassuring them about something.
Decoding: Understanding other peoples’ nonverbal cues by analyzing their facial expressions, body language, and more. Keep in mind that everyone’s nonverbal cues are deeply dependent on their culture, so avoid reading too much into decoded messages without confirming with your team members.
Even though the feedback you’re sharing is designed to help the other person improve in some way, feedback is still sometimes hard to hear. One of the challenges of giving real time feedback is that you never know exactly how the other person will respond. The person you’re sharing feedback with may have questions, reactions, or additional comments.
After you’ve shared your specific, timely feedback, ask the other person if they have any questions or thoughts. Some people may want to brainstorm actionable solutions right there and then, which you can do together if you’re comfortable doing so. If they want to follow up at a later date, let them know that’s okay too.
If you’re nervous about giving feedback, the best thing to do is to ask the other person if you can give them some feedback. Oftentimes, we have the opposite instinct—to share our feedback quickly and get it out of the way. But by letting the person know in advance that you have feedback, they can come to the feedback session with the right frame of mind.
Asking before you give feedback is a great way to prepare yourself and the other person for the feedback session. This is especially helpful for the peer-to-peer feedback process, since you may not have given that person feedback in the past.
If you manage a team, giving feedback is part of your job description. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to give. In addition to the above 11 best practices, use these four tips when you’re giving employee feedback:
You don’t need a script—but you do need bullet points. Prepare specific examples to share, as well as the overall narrative of the feedback session. This feedback session is a growth opportunity between you and your employee. What happened, and what can you both learn from it? How can your employee become a more effective team member moving forward?
Don’t give feedback in the moment, but also don’t wait until your employee’s performance review six months down the road. Aim to give feedback within a week of an event. That way, it’s still fresh in both of your minds, and your employee can more effectively apply your feedback to their work moving forward.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback during larger performance review sessions. But if you’re giving feedback on a regular basis, these assessments should summarize what you and your employee have been talking about over the past six or 12 months. Performance reviews shouldn’t be a surprise to the employee, since you should have discussed the feedback in 1:1 meetings beforehand.Read: 15 types of employee performance reviews (with templates and examples)
Ideally, lead with verbal, face-to-face feedback during a 1:1 session first to ensure nothing is misunderstood and the person receiving feedback has time to ask questions. After the meeting, provide a description of your conversation in written format.
Providing feedback in written and verbal form has three main benefits:
Some team members learn better by hearing, others by reading. By providing feedback verbally and in writing, you’re covering your bases to ensure your team member is receiving feedback in the way they prefer.
Written feedback is a tangible resource your employee can refer to if they forget your feedback or have questions.
You’re documenting that this feedback has been shared. This is particularly important if it’s feedback you find yourself repeating to your employee–you can point to previous feedback about the same topic you’ve covered in the past.
Depending on the type of feedback you offer, it might be helpful to offer to brainstorm solutions. This could include actions for the team member to take in the future or areas of improvements that you’ve noticed.
If you do brainstorm, focus on concrete next steps for the employee to do in the short-term—think no longer than six months. That way, they’re leaving your feedback session with a clear idea of how they can improve and get even more great work done.Read: 10 team management skills to start building today
Giving feedback is a two-way street. Just like your manager often gives you feedback, they can benefit from feedback as well. But even though giving upwards feedback is important, it’s also intimidating. Following these five tips doesn’t make upwards feedback effortless, but it does make it easier for you to get started. Here’s how.
It’s okay if you’re nervous before giving upwards feedback. It’s also okay if you’ve never done this before. But as much as possible, remember that your manager is, first and foremost, human. They understand that feedback is uncomfortable to give—they’ve probably given a lot of feedback themselves!
If you’re really nervous, try leading with, “This is difficult feedback for me to give,” or, “This is my first time giving upwards feedback.” Acknowledging how you’re feeling helps cut through the tension of a potentially awkward delivery.
Understanding the difference between impact and intent helps you prepare for and deliver your upwards feedback effectively. Intent is what the person meant when they did or said something. On the other hand, impact is the impact that action or conversation had on you or others.
Intent and impact are both important elements of a conversation. Someone might have a positive intent when they do or say something, but it could have come across the wrong way. The impact that action or conversation had on you matters—but it’s also important to remember that it came from a good place.
Your manager likely always has positive intent, but there may be some conversations or actions that impact you negatively. Separating the intent from the impact helps you best approach the conversation and clearly communicate with your manager. Share that, even though they were trying to help, it didn’t come across that way.
For example, say your manager invited you to attend a meeting with executive stakeholders. When the meeting began, they introduced you instead of letting you introduce yourself. Your manager had positive intent—they didn’t want you to be intimidated around executive stakeholders. But you would have liked to introduce yourself to build the relationship between you and those executive stakeholders. In this example, no one was “in the wrong,” and clarifying that when you share feedback can help you and your manager arrive at the best conclusion possible.
If you have an ideal solution for the feedback you’re sharing, don’t be afraid to offer it. This not only shows that you’ve thought through the situation, but also helps to center the conversation on what can be done to improve the situation you’ve just brought up—instead of spending too much time rehashing what went wrong in the first place.
If you’re too uncomfortable giving upwards feedback, ask your manager’s manager if they are willing to attend the conversation. This is helpful because your manager’s manager can act as a mediator and potentially smooth over any intense emotions.
That being said, avoid only giving feedback to your manager’s manager. Doing so might make your manager feel like you’re going behind their back. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to your manager without support, consider contacting your HR department for additional conflict resolution.
Remember: this feedback session isn’t the end all be all of your relationship with your manager. Your relationship is made up of many, many interactions between the two of you. Even if this is an important interaction—or even an awkward one—this may impact your relationship, but it probably won’t fundamentally change anything between you.
Feedback is a really important part of your work relationships, and the above 20 tips help you give feedback effectively and reduce any chance of miscommunication. However, before you give feedback, here are four things to keep in mind and avoid when possible:
A lot of us feel uncomfortable giving feedback. We want to say what we have to say without the other person interrupting, so we default to springing feedback out of nowhere.
Even though this feels more comfortable for the feedback giver in the moment, it almost always leads to worse feedback sessions. Because the other person isn’t prepared, they’re more likely to take feedback less well or even get offended.
The goal of feedback is to help the other person improve. So as often as possible, give them a heads up that you have feedback for them. That way, they can prepare and approach the feedback session in the best possible headspace.
When you give feedback, you want the other person to be in the best state to receive feedback. That ensures the other person can receive the feedback positively and learn from it. If the person is in a bad mood, they probably won’t receive feedback well, so see if you can defer to a different day.
You’ll often hear people recommend that you “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” to understand where they’re coming from. And it’s true that putting yourself in someone’s shoes is a great way to build emotional intelligence.
However, avoid doing this when you’re offering feedback. Unfortunately, when we try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes while offering feedback, it often sounds like we know better than them. Remember: feedback is an opinion, not a fact.
Phrases to avoid:
“If I were you…”
“You should have…”
“When I’m in your shoes…”
Facts vs. stories is a mental framework developed by the Conscious Leadership Group, and it’s a great way to mentally prepare yourself before offering feedback. Facts are observable things that anyone could notice—think of things a video camera picks up. On the other hand, stories are the assumptions and interpretations of the facts.
We all create stories—it’s how we process the world. But when you’re offering feedback, make sure you’re clearly differentiating between facts and stories. Facts are the things you know about what happened. Stories can quickly turn into assumptions about why someone did or said something—even though you don’t actually know what was going through their heads.
Sometimes it’s helpful to share stories, because they give the other person insight into how we’re feeling. However, if you do share stories, it’s really important to clarify that these are stories that you’ve perceived, not objective facts.
The more feedback you give, the better you’ll get at it. Make sure you’re storing and sharing feedback in a centralized work management tool, so everyone can access the feedback and continue learning from it. Organize work, share notes, and stay connected with Asana.Improve team communication with Asana