Five Steps For Giving Better Feedback

Overcoming poor feedback and vague communication in the workplace

It's hard giving and receiving constructive feedback. And lousy feedback makes it so much worse. The person giving the feedback doesn't get the point across, and the receiver is at best confused, but more likely hostile.

Poor feedback is toxic. It can demoralize and negatively affect a person's ability to perform their job.

Here are a few examples of lousy feedback:

  • Specific yet vague. You need to change how you do that. It's weird.
  • Confusing. I LOVE it! But let's do it again.
  • Personal attack. Your voice is SO irritating. Ask anyone here.
  • Non-specific. Um . . . I don't know. It's just not doing it for me.
  • Guilt ridden. You really disappointed me.
  • Underlying consequence with no direction. We have to see overall improvement.
  • Passive aggressive. You really like this?
  • Angry. It's like you don't want to get any better. How many times to do I have to tell you? Be like Bob over there.

Feedback is no longer just the role of the manager. It's part of doing daily business in a team environment. And it's more often than not the responsibility of each employee and manager to both give and receive feedback constructively.

Five Steps to Better Feedback

Luckily, it's not hard to find information developing better feedback skills. The Practical Coach 2  is a powerful training program that provides insights on how to give feedback while letting your employees know that you care. 

  1. Be specific. Talk about the behavior—what the person is doing or not doing. Avoid commenting on attitudes and personalities.
  2. Find a good location. Find a place to give feedback that's private and free of interruptions.
  3. Give balanced feedback. Giving 100 percent positive feedback makes a person feel good, but doesn't offer much room for improvement. Negative feedback, although harsh and sometimes damaging, can improve performance. The ideal is a combination of both—making the person feel good, but at the same time providing constructive feedback for improvement.
  4. Don't Delay. If you wait a long time between the problem and the feedback, it becomes a lot harder to resolve the issue. Provide immediate constructive feedback. Don't wait for an annual review.
  5. If you can't be constructive, don't do it. If lousy feedback seems your only option, pass. You can only make things worse.

Hopefully, unconstructive feedback is falling out of fashion. I'd like to think it is, but I'd like to hear from you.

Have you heard any unconstructive feedback lately? The worst feedback I ever heard was, "This is terrible. Why didn't we hire the other guy?"

Can you beat that? Let me know.

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.