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Keys to GIVING Feedback that Works


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how leaders need to be when receiving feedback. The bottom-line was that we as leaders need to ensure that we are open, and aligning any feedback with a bigger picture vision to ensure that we don’t act in wishy-washy ways. The ability to receive feedback and act on it effectively is paramount to effective leadership -- and the ability to give feedback appropriately is of equal importance.   

The purpose of feedback, generally speaking, is to help others understand themselves. Often the intent is to point one in the direction of needed change, or establish what is working well. In either case, when feedback isn’t given appropriately, it cannot facilitate meaningful results.  

Giving feedback effectively requires you to consider a few things: 

  1. Timing. When giving feedback, you want to ensure that it is done in a timely manner. In the case of critical feedback, the 24 hour rule is a great metric to use. Waiting for 24 hours past whatever event is precipitating the need for criticism ensures that “the heat of the moment” has had time to dissipate. The recipient of the feedback may still not like what is said, but cooler heads and a little bit of distance goes a long way to ensuring that everyone can interact in a more grounded way.

  2. Timing -- from the other side. While waiting 24 hours can be very effective, waiting too long does not serve well. Generally speaking, you want feedback -- both positive and not-so-positive -- to be delivered as soon as possible. Certainly, it does not serve to wait more than a week. When too much distance passes it can be hard to recall exactly what happened, and it conveys a message of “not actually caring.”  

  3. Purpose. Why are you giving this particular feedback? Is it to help facilitate change? Is it to help your team member grow? Is it to have him or her develop a particular skill? Is it to point out a strength? Whatever the purpose, make sure it is clearly articulated as part of the process.

  4. Your desired outcome. Similar to knowing your purpose, you need to know what your desired outcome is in giving the feedback. What response or action are you expecting? Be clear on this, and be sure to articulate it as part of the process.

  5. Your own blind spots. You’ve got blind spots; I’ve got blind spots; we’ve all got blind spots. Make yourself aware of these before delivering feedback. For example, is the person you’re talking to someone you generally like or dislike? Someone you respect or loathe? Someone you look up to or condescend to? Knowing your personal blind spots -- particularly in the form of perspectives - can go a long way to ensuring that said blind spots don’t cloud the feedback.

  6. Clarity. Brene Brown says that “clear is kind”. In an effort to cushion the proverbial blow, there can be a tendency to beat around the bush when giving feedback. Don’t do that -- it doesn’t serve anyone well. All it does is cloud the issue and result in a feeling of confusion.

  7. Space. Make sure you are delivering feedback in an appropriate space -- how much privacy is needed? How much time is needed? The person receiving the feedback may want to discuss a bit -- make sure you are in an appropriate venue with sufficient time to allow for this to happen.

  8. Presence. Make sure that when you give feedback, you are fully present and free of distractions. Doing so will ensure that the recipient of said feedback --whether good or bad -- will feel valued.  Similarly, once you’ve delivered your feedback, sit back and give space for the recipient to respond or ask questions. Listen and support. Be in connection and dialogue.

  9. Don’t hoard it. Sometimes, there can be an inadvertent “storing feedback in a file” -- metaphorical or actual - that happens, with a view to delivering it all at once.  In the professional world, this can often look like a performance review or something similar. DON’T DO THAT. Feedback should be given regularly.  There should be nothing in a performance review that comes as a surprise -- whether it’s praise or criticism, deliver it within a reasonable time frame relative to the precipitating event.

  10. All the communication basics. Use the words that are appropriate, make sure your body language is open and supportive, ensure that your facial expressions match your words. These are “common sense” to some degree, and yet they can so often get overlooked. In the realm of feedback, overlooking any of these can yield undesirable results.  

Bottom-line: as a leader, the giving of feedback is an important responsibility. You’ve got to be able to do so meaningfully, in a timely manner, and in service of the bigger picture. Honing your ability to deliver feedback will ensure that those around you regard you with respect, which in turn enhances your ability to lead effectively.