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Giving good feedback to colleagues is important for professional and personal growth. Yet giving feedback can be uncomfortable and even terrifying for many people. You worry about offending others, saying the “wrong thing,” or coming across as overly critical. But avoiding difficult feedback conversations hinders opportunities for improvement and stagnates workplace performance. The key is learning how to structure and give feedback in a sensitive yet impactful way.
With practice, awkward feedback discussions become easier, and you’ll find that thoughtful pointing out both strengths and growth areas helps people develop, strengthens relationships, and ultimately makes you a better colleague and leader.
Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Use Effective Feedback to Stay Resilient and Agile
Focus on behavior, not personality
When giving feedback, focus on specific behaviors and actions that someone can change, rather than the person’s innate qualities. For example, say “The final report contained many typos and formatting errors” rather than “Your work is usually sloppyThis keeps the feedback professional, constructive and actionable.
Related: Employee feedback is only effective if it’s done right. Here’s how to make sure it lands.
Save the relationship
Even necessary criticism should preserve the other person’s dignity and self-esteem. Start by recognizing strengths and good intentions. Explain the purpose behind your comments. As I said before, focus on the work, not the person.
Four key principles underpin high-quality feedback:
1. Specificity — Give concrete examples of what the person did well or badly. Say “You did a great job” has no meaning. But say: “You handled that difficult customer conversation very skillfully by focusing on shared interests,will leave a more lasting impression.
2. Timeliness — The sooner you give feedback, the more accurately the other person will remember the situation and the more helpful your comments will be. Delays can lead to misunderstandings. Aim to provide feedback within a day or two of an event or interaction.
If you work with someone often, aim to provide feedback on an ongoing or routine basis, rather than just at key milestones. Regular feedback is also considered more credible and encourages better habits early on.
3. Relevance — Your feedback should be directly related to the person’s responsibilities and goals at work. Avoid getting personal or venturing into areas that are out of your reach. Stick to professional issues that can be improved through feedback.
4. Empathy — Showing genuine care and concern for the other person puts them at ease and makes them more receptive to your message. Start by acknowledging their good intentions, then explain how their approach can be refined.
Give honest but tactful feedback that takes the other person’s feelings into account. Avoid embarrassment, foul language, or exaggeration, even if the feedback is critical. A more empathetic tone is friendlier and keeps the discussion constructive. Phrases like “I know you put a lot of work into this, but…can soften critical feedback.
Highlight specific examples
Where possible, substantiate your feedback with concrete examples and details. Say, “Your presentation lacked structure“is vague, but”The introduction did not put the topics in a logical orderpoints to a clearer action for the person to take. Examples make the feedback real and highlight areas for improvement.
Suggest alternative behavior
Don’t just point out what someone did wrong, suggest positive alternatives for them to try next time. Say, “You reacted aggressively during that exchange,” is less useful than “Taking a moment to calm down before reacting would probably have produced a better outcomeThis gives the person practical options for implementing your feedback.
Related: 9 Ways to Foster Actionable Feedback in Your Organization
Don’t dwell on past mistakes and instead focus your feedback on finding constructive solutions. Phrases like “Try next time..” or “In the future, it is better to… help to make feedback on progress productive. This keeps the discussion positive and solution-oriented.
Use “I” statements and listen actively
Frame your feedback using “i” statements that are less accusatory and more impartial. For example: “I felt the introduction lost people’ instead of ‘You lost people with that introductionThis makes the feedback about your perspective rather than an attack on the person. It also increases the likelihood that they will be receptive.
After giving your feedback, actively listen to the other person’s reaction and perspective. Ask open-ended questions, paraphrase what they say, and resist the urge to interrupt. This shows that you value their thoughts and are more interested in a genuine exchange than “being right.”
Related: 10 Telltale Phrases That Indicate Someone Isn’t Telling the Truth
After giving feedback, regularly check whether the person found it useful and how they plan to implement it. Offer additional suggestions or clarification if needed. This shows that you are invested in really helping them improve, and demonstrates your value as a colleague and mentor.
With these principles in mind, your feedback will help others improve and reflect well on you as a thoughtful leader. If you’re looking for a more streamlined way to manage feedback and performance reviews for your team, consider using Hana Retail as your cash register system.