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10 Tips on Providing Productive Feedback

Negative feedback is not something anyone enjoys either giving or receiving. We would like to think about ourselves as we did not have any weak spots. However, learning about our mistakes helps us prevent them in the future and as a consequence improves our performance to eventually become better in any field in our lives. Therefore, the ability to give productive feedback is a crucial skill that managers should possess if they want to effectively manage their teams. Whether you work with one person or one hundred you should know how to give them feedback that would help them grow.

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The way you convey your message when you want to provide somebody with feedback determines whether it will be actually helpful. Expressing feedback in the form in which we do not offend other people and we try to make them understand our point of view is the way to do it. It is called constructive feedback.

Giving constructive feedback is one of the crucial elements of effective communication between people. Your comment about another person’s behavior provides him with insight into how he can grow and improve. It is not easy though. People usually become more defensive and resistant to the further conversation if we start speaking about their negative sides. You can prevent such an attitude if you manage to construct your message properly. Easy to say, harder to do. This article though will provide you with a few universal tips that improve the quality of your feedback.

Productive feedback in 10 steps:

Keep positive attitude

As I mentioned at the beginning people do not want to be exposed to any kind of negativity. We tend to avoid situations that cause stress and make us feel uncomfortable or upset. That is our natural defensive system. According to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time. The main reason is that people fail to make another person feel comfortable when giving feedback. If you pounce on another person trying to criticize his behavior, he will not be willing to continue the conversation and listen to your comments. And this is the opposite effect of what you want to achieve when giving somebody feedback, right? If you want the feedback to be ultimately productive, you should keep a positive attitude for the entire conversation. Make another person feel good in the situation and instead of pointing mistakes out show the areas the one can improve.

Be specific

Another crucial factor that determines whether the feedback is productive or not is being precise in what you want to say. If your message is too ambiguous you will not achieve the desired result. Do not talk about general things because they will give only a vague idea about the other person’s behavior and certainly will not be any help in improving performance. Instead, use specific facts followed by concrete examples. Precise feedback will put a person in the right context and on the right track on the way to developing himself. On top of that, if your feedback is too general you run the risk of personal misinterpretation of your message.

Help the person to improve

When you give somebody feedback you take partial responsibility for that person. Therefore, you should make sure you provide information that helps the other to move forward. Do not ask questions that force people to defend themselves, but instead try to put them on a track to find a way to improve. Encourage the person to look at what they did and what the outcomes are. Stimulate their thinking by asking clear and precise questions so they can discover opportunities to learn from mistakes and eventually grow. Use feedback as a motivation tool to encourage others to work on their performance.

Make sure you are understood

We have a natural tendency to think that other people have the same point of view as we do. This is one of the main reasons of misunderstanding in communication. We all have different filters when looking at different situations, so you should not assume in advance you have been understood. When giving feedback listen to another person carefully and try to put yourself in his shoes. At each step of the conversation make sure that he is following your message and interpreting it in the right way. Ask questions ensuring you have been clearly understood and the person is not offended by your message.

Show your support

Nobody likes to be left on his own. We want to feel that we can count on another person especially when we struggle with problems. This is why the person you give feedback to should feel you are doing it for him and that you are on the same side. You are supposed to help another person, not to muddle him. Ensure the person that he can always come to you if he has any questions, concerns, or challenges. Use your feedback as an opportunity to improve the quality of your relationship. When another person genuinely feels your support and willingness to help, the results of your feedback can be much better.

However, support is not the same thing as doing something for another person. Feedback is the tool you can use to help someone else improve. You give him directions and tips and he should find a way to leverage your feedback. Do not give ready solutions.

Be immediate

Our brains learn best by being caught in action. This is why giving feedback about something that happened 6 months ago might be not the most effective way to improve someone else’s behavior or performance. Our long-term memory is not good at recording all the details, so the person might not even be able to bring back all the important facts. On top of that, people changes over time. Your feedback might not be valid anymore if you get back to the person after a long time. He or she may have already improved in a certain area, so your help will not make any sense. Giving feedback on the spot will help to make the most of it.

Do not manipulate

Many people apply different approaches and tools when giving negative feedback. Some of them are more effective while the others do not bring desired results. You can naturally try them out and see what works best for you. However, the biggest challenge you face is to speak in a way that allows the other person to hear and understand your message without causing them to become defensive, resistant, or emotional. And in this case, many approaches fail because the way of expressing feedback is not necessarily genuine.

For instance, the so-called “feedback sandwich” approach in which you cover negative message between two positive ones up front and at the end of the conversation, is very often considered as manipulation, as the initial positive statement and the final one very often do not seem to be authentic, so the overall message is underestimated or discounted by the recipient.

When you give somebody feedback you should make sure that you are genuine and clear in what you are saying. Do not try to apply any tricks or manipulations on another person, because you may fail even before you get to the point of your message.

Never judge

People hate being judged and one of the worst things you can do when you give somebody feedback is to be judgemental about his mistakes, behavior, or performance. When you judge someone you immediately put yourself in a higher position than your partner in conversation so he would become resistant to anything you want to say. You and the recipient are equal and you should not make him doubt it at any moment of conversation. Full understanding is what the person needs when getting feedback from someone else, not a judgemental tone.

Be objective

Of course, being 100% objective is not possible as we all look at the world from different perspectives. However, you should try to be as objective as possible. As it was mentioned before, do not make any assumptions and do not judge another person. Keep to the facts, not your personal interpretations. Do not think in terms of “what I would do in this situation” and do not compare the person to yourself. Instead, try to understand behavior taking into consideration all the facts and background. Only in this way you will get the bigger picture and be able to really help another person with your message.

Be prepared

Lastly, giving productive feedback should not be a spontaneous event. When you want the recipient to make the most of it and actually help him to improve in a certain field you should get prepared for the conversation. The best way to do it is to write down all the facts and details you want to share with another person. As I mentioned before you need to be precise. General statements are not the option. Then think of directions you think the person should follow to change their behavior or performance. Next, come up with questions that would put the recipient on the right track to grow. This is a crucial part. Questions should stimulate their thinking and encourage them to learn from their behavior on their own. You should be a guide who shows the way, not a dictator who dictates conditions. Finally, you need to think of possible reactions to your feedback. People might be resistant to hear what they did wrong and you need to know what to do to encourage them to listen to you.

Productive feedback – sum up:

One famous saying goes: “People have a habit of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be”. Do not try to change another person using power. The more you try the more resistant they become. Instead, show the person the way he can improve. The purpose of feedback is to help someone learn about his mistakes and find the means to grow. If your message is specific, clear, genuine, and free of any judgments you will both profit from the productive feedback. You will be satisfied you have helped another person and the recipient will have the opportunity to change himself for the better. The art of feedback might not be the easiest, but if you follow the tips described in this article you can master it and help others.

Urszula Kamburov-Niepewna
Ula eng