How to give feedback people actually want

It’s no secret that most people want useful feedback on their job performance. But we’re just starting to realize how much feedback employees really want. The quarterly performance review is no longer enough for employees seeking constant improvement. They want weekly and even daily feedback from engaged managers. Unfortunately, the feedback they do receive isn’t always useful.

So, how do you provide feedback that people not only want but can actually use? The answers are simple, but they do require thoughtfulness. Next time you find yourself in a position to provide feedback, follow these rules.

Think big picture

Rather than providing feedback that centers on a single task or project, try to identify more general behavior trends. What behaviors are effective and should be continued? What behaviors are harmful and need to be altered?

If you get stuck trying to identify which behaviors to focus on, consider the company’s needs, goals, and culture. Does the company need someone who can step up and take more of a leadership role in their team? Or does their culture work better with team players that can get everyone to work together?

What is appropriate for one role, team, or company may not be appropriate for another. Everyone has to adapt to be successful, and receiving feedback that allows you to support the company where it needs it most is some of the most useful feedback you can provide.

Be specific

Instead of saying someone is doing “great” at their job, point to specific examples of the great things they’re doing. For example, if a designer takes the time to reach out to dev and marketing for feedback whenever they’re introducing a new feature idea, acknowledging their collaborative working style will ensure they continue to find opportunities to bring different perspectives together. Likewise, rather than saying someone lacks leadership skills, point out opportunities where they could exercise decisiveness and provide direction for their team.

Being specific not only helps people turn feedback into action, it also helps avoid misinterpretation. When people try to comment on someone’s disposition or emotional state, rather than on specific actions, it often leads to defensiveness. And a defensive person isn’t going to find any feedback useful.

Don’t focus on just the good or the bad

Some people like to please. Others tend to stay quiet until there’s a problem. Unfortunately, providing solely positive or negative feedback to those around you isn’t helpful.

If you find providing negative feedback difficult, you may have to work on improving this skill. If you often forget to praise the good things your team regularly does, you will need to make an effort to speak up and demonstrate gratitude.

Feedback should be holistic. While you don’t have to include both positive and negative aspects with every comment you provide, you should aim to strike a balance overall.

Acknowledge improvement

If you do provide feedback and see a positive change, don’t forget to praise your team for their efforts. A little boost of acknowledgment or gratitude can motivate employees to make further positive changes, improve morale, and increase job satisfaction.

If you wait too long to praise someone, the satisfaction your acknowledgment provides diminishes. In fact, you’ve likely built up resentment if the person put a lot of time and effort into utilizing your feedback in the first place.

Use empathy

With any feedback, there is always a chance someone can’t or won’t use it to their advantage. If you try applying these tips and still feel like your feedback isn’t being used or, vice versa, that you can’t seem to use the feedback provided to you, try your best to understand where the other person is coming from. Practice actively listening, see if you can understand the other person’s perceptual language style, and do your best to keep improving your feedback. You may even want to ask your team for feedback on your feedback!