How to Give Feedback

February 3, 2021

Knowing how to give feedback is extremely important regardless of the stage you are at in your career. If you are just starting your feedback might be required to improve internal processes once you join a new company. If you cover a managerial position, feedback is the single most crucial aspect of your job role. 

Why is feedback important?

Feedback is the most common way in which we, as humans, learn. Therefore, giving and receiving feedback is essential for us to improve in most aspects of life, regardless of whether it is work or still studying.

One of the primary reasons why employees leave their workplace is the lack of guidance and guidance comes from feedback. Moreover, it can also help shape people’s career paths. On the job, we often learn by doing. If an individual is put in a position where they cannot attain the basics of what they have to do, they will look for a new place willing to invest time and resources in helping their employees develop new skills. 

Feedback is a constant in our daily lives when we write emails to verify whether something is working when we write tickets to ask for a fix in a product or if we are just checking-in with someone we know, these are all feedbacks. They are different types of feedback, but they are all needed to interact with one another, companies and institutions.

Whenever we answer a question, we are providing feedback.

Why should I learn to give feedback?

Learning to give feedback is essential for your well-being, and for those, you are interacting with.

To this day, I still remember clearly the worst feedback I have ever been given. I had requested a review session to my manager because I was approaching the six months mark at this company, and I wanted to be sure my efforts were paying off. I also wanted to be sure to correct anything that might have needed to be done differently.

Providing feedback wasn’t, at the time, a usual practice at this company, and I had caught my manager off guard. Given the surprise, he believed he didn’t need any time to prepare such a 1:1 and decided to provide me with feedback right then and there. 

I sat down and received feedback that was both unstructured and based on second-hand information. As my manager believed he didn’t need to prepare beforehand verifying what I had done and which accomplishments I had reached, he drew himself on referrals he had gathered before hiring me from ex-colleagues of mine. 

My approach to this new job was much more action-focused than my previous position as I now had more experience, and the role was now client-facing. But the feedback I got was unrelated to my current role. Moreover, it was apparent my manager was repeating things he heard from someone else because the words and sentence structure he was using was not his way of speaking.

The result of this meeting was quite devastating. The feedback itself wasn’t harmful, but it went against all the efforts I had put into the assigned tasks. There was a discrepancy between me trying to obtain new client leads for the company even when I was not responsible for such a job and the review I had received.

I went home that evening and gave thorough consideration to quit the job.

Luckily my manager realised he approached the session ill-prepared and gave me a follow-up session the following day, reconsidering what he had shared and admitting there had been a misstep.

Giving feedback is an art. If you cannot provide useful feedback, you could be responsible for harmful outcomes for both the individual and the firm.

Had my manager not taken the time to follow-up, I might have decided never to work a client-facing job in the future. It would have been a shame given I am good with people (even though I am an introvert) and might have lost an employee who ended up being extremely resourceful. 

How to give feedback?

For feedback to work, it has to be authentic, and it has to come from wanting the other person to succeed and from actually knowing the situation at hand. 

If you are trying to make the other person succeed, it will be visible from your verbal and non-verbal language. Even if the feedback you are providing is one where your counterpart has a lot to fix, it will be much easier to accept and acknowledge it is done future-facing and with a growth perspective. 

Moreover, it should not get personal. You should never use phrases such as “you are a terrible person” or any other language that can be offensive on a personal level. If someone’s work is not up to standard always focus on the job, not the individual and suggest what can be done to achieve some improvement.

If, on the other hand, the feedback is given to prepare someone to be fired, it is useless. It is futile because it will cause more harm than good to the team that the individual is a part of and the institution. 

While it is always allowed and accepted to give positive feedback in a public setting, I highly recommend you never provide negative feedback to an individual in a shared environment. Depending on the person’s sensitivity, it could be interpreted as public shaming. 

You will make them feel ashamed, and you will be hated for taking them down publicly.

Feedback should be direct; therefore, you will have to learn and practice synthesis if you are someone who loves talking. The reason behind this is pretty simple: if the feedback is positive, it will most likely get lost among all that you are saying and your counterpart might miss it. If, on the other hand, it is negative feedback, you will end up dragging this shameful moment longer than needed, and it will result in making your counterpart feel worse than they actually need to.

Actionable Steps

  1. Give feedback based on first-hand observations and provide data or examples if needed (especially when highlighting how something should not be done).
  2. Provide feedback to try to get that person to succeed. 
  3. Be concise and direct when reviewing someone - this way, the message will be clear and easy to understand.
  4. Negative feedback is usually less productive than positive, positive feedback underlines how things should be done and can be used as an example. Negative feedback just says what shouldn’t be done and often does not include examples of what is expected.
  5. If you have to give negative feedback, avoid doing it in a public setting, you will just be hated for the embarrassing experience, and it could be perceived as public shaming.

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Alessia Cappello

Alessia eases brands, agencies and publishers measure their online advertising effectiveness. She is a digital marketing and advertising enthusiast by day. Passionate about the intersection between technology, art & culture by night.

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