effective feedback

5 simple steps to giving effective feedback

Reading time: about 9 min

Topics:

  • Organization and evaluation
  • Teamwork and collaboration

Feedback. The very word can strike fear in employees and managers alike. We all need it and most of us say that we want it. But getting (and giving) feedback isn’t always easy. 

For employees, poorly delivered feedback can quickly backfire on managers trying to correct behaviors or motivate performance. For managers, giving feedback can feel uncomfortable or embarrassing—especially if it’s “constructive criticism” (i.e. negative feedback). 

But when done correctly, giving feedback at work can be a powerful tool for driving performance and employee engagement. While you can’t avoid all uncomfortable conversations, you can learn effective feedback techniques and tricks to make the process easier. 

Below we’ll cover what makes feedback effective, why it’s important, and 5 steps to delivering effective feedback to your employees every time.   

What is effective feedback and what is constructive criticism? 

Learning how to give constructive feedback starts with understanding what effective feedback actually looks like. 

Feedback can be positive or negative—but whether it is effective depends on how you deliver it. This is especially important when giving negative feedback–sometimes called constructive criticism. Negative feedback can be demoralizing if it isn’t balanced and constructive. 

So what makes feedback effective? 

Effective feedback is:

Specific

Vague or general feedback is less valuable and less actionable for employees. Give general feedback, expect general results. 

For targeted improvement, be specific and descriptive so your employees understand exactly what it is you want them to do or change. (And always focus on the specific behavior itself, not the person.) This will not only lead to better outcomes in behavior and performance, but it will reduce confusion and frustration, both of which can lead to lower morale and disengagement.

Timely

Feedback is most effective when you offer it at (or around) the time you notice the behavior or issue. 

For example, if an employee gives a presentation and you want to share some tips on ways they could improve, don’t wait until the next week to give them that feedback. 

Depending on how detailed the feedback is, offer your thoughts to them right after the meeting or schedule a quick one-on-one later that day. When you give feedback in a timely manner, the topic or issue will be front of mind for the employee. 

If you wait until the next week, the employee may not remember exactly what they did or how they did it—making it harder for them to act on your feedback.

Appropriate

Feedback should be tailored to the recipient and offered at an appropriate time and place. Constructive criticism should always be given in private. Be sure to consider how each employee likes to receive feedback as well.  

Goal-oriented

Effective feedback is tied to goals and a shared vision for the team or organization. Without that foundation, feedback is merely advice. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Effective feedback should be actionable and goal-oriented, helping your employee achieve specific outcomes in performance or behavior.   

How to give constructive feedback in 5 steps 

Now that you know what effective feedback looks like, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty—how to actually deliver constructive feedback with as little pain as possible.

Follow these five steps to give valuable feedback:

1. Clarify intent

What is the purpose of this feedback? Why are you offering it? 

Ask yourself: 

  • Are your employee’s actions or behaviors having a significant impact on coworkers or the company?
  • Do you feel calm and collaborative or stressed and angry?
  • Can you give the feedback in a private setting?
  • Do you know what you want to say?

Your intentions matter—your goal should be to help your employees improve and succeed. If that isn’t your reason for giving feedback, consider keeping it to yourself.

2. Provide context

Positive or negative, always ground your feedback in specific details. This will clarify what you want to address and why. Explain when and where the behavior or issue occurred so your employee understands how to act on the feedback. 

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clarify the impact of their behavior on you, the team, or the company. This will provide further context for the situation and explain why the conversation is necessary. 

3. Describe the situation and avoid accusations

Don’t come into a feedback meeting guns blazing. Performance conversations are a time for both parties to discuss issues and opportunities for improvement. However it’s difficult for employees to receive and act on feedback effectively if they’re immediately put on the defensive. 

Instead, focus on concrete behaviors or performance. You don’t want to come across as combative or accusatory. Lay out the situation as you see it and understand it. Then give your employee a chance to respond. 

4. Pause and invite their response

After you’ve shared your side, pause to allow your employee to respond. This gives them the chance to address your version of events and clarify or explain where their experience or interpretation differs. 

Invite them to respond by asking something like “Does that sound like a fair assessment to you? What’s been your experience in this situation?”

They may share why they behaved a certain way or what obstacles they face in amending their behavior going forward. When you open up a dialogue like this, you invite collaboration to solve the issue together. 

5. Recommend next steps and follow up

Based on your employee’s reaction, offer your opinion on the best way to move forward. Provide one or two next steps they can take to change their behavior in the future and use this as an opportunity to set realistic goals for improvement. 

Pro Tip: Make sure you document the conversation and the action plan you and your employee have agreed on. Outline what the feedback was and the steps your employee will take to fix the problem. You can go old school and record these notes on paper or use a management solution like Lucidspark to keep your meeting notes organized. 

Lucidspark makes it easy to brainstorm solutions together on a shared canvas, jot down ideas and action items on sticky notes, and keep meeting minutes in one place. Use Lucidspark to drive constructive performance conversations, keep goals top of mind, and measure progress at your next one-on-one.

Examples of constructive criticism

Feedback can be given or received top-down, peer-to-peer, or bottom-up. 

Top-down feedback

Let’s say you just finished giving a presentation. Constructive criticism from your manager (top-down feedback) might sound like this: 

“Hey! Nice work on the presentation. You really nailed the data visualizations. However, I noticed that you read straight from the slides—next time, don’t be afraid to work on your eye contact with the room. I think it will really help engage the audience better.” 

Peer-to-peer feedback

Another example of constructive criticism might be when you’re collaborating with a coworker (peer-to-peer feedback): 

“Hey coworker, I like the way you included extra context on this explanation. But I think the formatting might be confusing. What if we tried organizing it another way?”

Bottom-up feedback

Of course, sometimes our own bosses need to hear from us. Giving feedback to managers or other leaders can be intimidating. But bottom-up feedback is an important way to help leaders understand their teams’ experiences and improve their leadership. 

Constructive bottom-up feedback can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes leadership will ask for feedback officially through a team or company survey. Other times, your boss might ask for your informal input after a meeting or a formal one-on-one conversation. These check-ins are important for keeping communication open between leaders and employees and creating a culture of 360-degree feedback ensures everyone has the information they need to improve and grow together.

How to respond to constructive feedback

While receiving feedback is valuable, 

it doesn’t always feel good to be on the receiving end of constructive criticism—no matter how nice the delivery is. 

So how can you respond when you inevitably receive criticism?

  1. Don’t react right away. When we hear criticism, we can quickly jump to defensive mode. But it’s important to sit with the feedback and listen to what the other person has to say. 
  2. Listen carefully and ask questions. Focus on understanding what they’re saying and what they really mean. Ask questions to clarify and get more information. This can help you understand a) what is wrong and b) how to best address the issue moving forward.
  3. Don’t take it personally. It’s easy to feel personally attacked when someone approaches us with criticism. It’s far more effective for both of you if you can connect their feedback to your role and responsibilities. Consider how their feedback can help you improve your work. 
  4. Thank the person for the feedback. As much as we don’t like receiving negative feedback, most people don’t like to share negative feedback either. Thank the person for being willing to share the feedback with you to help you improve.
  5. Take action. Reflect on the feedback if needed. You may want to set up a follow-up meeting with the person to brainstorm solutions for moving forward successfully. Once you have the information you need, take the feedback on board and make the necessary changes to improve based on what you’ve learned.

Benefits of effective feedback

Giving effective feedback is key to building strong teams and high-performing companies. That’s why so many organizations focus on creating a culture of feedback. 

Positive employee feedback and constructive feedback can: 

  • Boost employee loyalty.
  • Strengthen team bonds.
  • Promote mentorship.
  • Improve performance.
  • Increase employee engagement.

In fact, Gallup found that when managers provide weekly constructive feedback, employees were 5.2x more likely to strongly agree that they receive meaningful feedback and 3.2x more likely to strongly agree they are motivated to do outstanding work.

Bottom line: When and how you give feedback matters. So make it count.

effective feedback

Encourage a culture of giving and receiving helpful feedback. Try one of our feedback templates today.

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Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidspark.com.

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