3 Steps to Giving Good Feedback at Work

Not long ago I shared some ideas about how we can ask for feedback at work. This has raised the question from many of you about the flipside of the situation: what are best practices around providing feedback to others? Whether it’s positive or constructive feedback you want to deliver, read on for some tips on how to do so with impact.

First, consider the when and where.

Feedback is often best delivered when it’s fresh. For example, feedback provided on an annual review is often not top of mind and much less actionable as opposed to feedback delivered shortly after you observed the specific behavior.

This being said, it may be too soon for us to give feedback. Brené Brown offers this fantastic checklist to help us evaluate when we’re ready to give feedback. When we’re able to check the boxes on this list, we’re in a place that we can offer genuine, productive feedback without judgment.

As you plan the when and where of the feedback conversation, it’s also a good idea to provide the receiver with a head’s up so that they are prepared to actually hear your feedback. Being caught off-guard with unexpected feedback can prevent people from being able to truly listen to what you have to say.  

Send a meeting invitation to the recipient with the details of when and where, along with a brief overview about what you’re planning to discuss. For example: Hi John, I’d like to talk about last Thursday’s sales pitch. This is much less intimidating (and worrisome!) for the recipient than: Hi John, I’d like to give you some feedback.

Particularly if you need to share constructive feedback, reserve a meeting room or take a walk with the recipient to allow for a 1:1 conversation.

Then, consider the what.

What feedback do you need to provide? The most common mistake people make here is that they offer subjective input when giving feedback. It’s important to stick to the facts and not add opinions or judgments. A great way to do so is to use the Center for Creative Leadership’s S-B-I framework:

Situation: Describe the situation where the observed behavior occurred. Be specific about when and where it occurred.

Example: Last Thursday afternoon, you delivered a sales pitch to XYZ prospective client about our newest product offering.

Behavior: Describe the specific, observable behavior or action.

Example: While you were presenting, you mumbled and read from your notes.

Note the difference here between this: You seemed very unprepared for the pitch, which is an opinion.

Impact: Describe the results of the behavior.

Example: As a result, I am concerned that we will not instill confidence for the prospective client, losing their business.  

If you have positive feedback to share, use words such as happy or proud to underscore the positive impact of the person’s work.

Finally, consider the how.

This refers to essentially how you want to be during the feedback conversation. I like to refer to Kim Scott’s radical candor matrix here to remind me to provide feedback in a way that demonstrates that I care personally while also challenging directly.

As you look at this matrix, pay close attention to your default or “go-to” style of delivering feedback. Early on in my career, for example, I often found myself providing ruinous empathy by caring for the person but not providing honest feedback to help them truly grow. I noticed that I needed to become more comfortable with challenging directly and shift into the radical candor quadrant.  

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Take some time to utilize these frameworks and tools to help you think through the when, where, what, and how of giving feedback.