Feedback has become a versatile and often used word in the work culture. It covers many situations, be it casual discussions among colleagues or yearly performance reviews with the boss. While some people have had good experiences with it, others dread it. But do we actually know how to give proper feedback? How much thought do we put into it?

Business rationale

It is no longer an industry secret that feedback can largely contribute to companies‘ performance, growth and culture. Proper feedback not only engages people but it also plays a vital role in improving processes, communication within teams and overall productivity. While there are many tips and tricks out there, we’ll look at a few pointers that often get overlooked. Hopefully, these will inspire better feedback sessions in the future.

Make it a regular affair

Feedback should be given freely and regularly instead of letting it pile up until the yearly review or saving it for the first chance at lashing out against a colleague. There is no benefit in keeping things that need to be said quiet, positives and negatives. All that improvement and learning potential goes to waste. Frequent feedback will also ease the tension in the formal feedback rounds as many things were discussed before and there is a lower surprise factor.

Be as specific as possible

Specific feedback leaves little room for ambiguity and interpretation. Feedback should contain facts, concrete examples and first hand knowledge as opposed to generlized statements based on knowledge from other people’s views. A positive comment like „your team did a good job“ is nice to hear, but lacks content. It doesn’t tell the person receiving it what exactly went well and can be continued in future projects or what should be changed. Instead, statements like „Person A did task X well“ or „Person B showed great problem solving skills when doing X“ give more insights. Feedback should not be about getting personal, pointing fingers or exaggerating, as this will only lead to the person receiving it getting defensive or fearful. This, in turn, creates a toxic environment to discuss any performance, and deceives the entire purpose of feedback.

Focus on just a couple of topics

Limiting a feedback session to just a few points and sticking to one point at a time is more likely to drive home the intended message without the risk to overwhelm the person. A long list of, albeit constructure, criticism, or jumping constantly between topics, no matter how good the arguments brought forward are, could make the person receiving the feedback feel attacked and become closed off.

Provide suggestions/ideas/solutions

What good does positive criticism do to a person who is not aware of said behavior or of ways to change it? Following the above steps when giving feedback is a great start. What makes it better is looking at solutions with the person and discussing together concrete suggestions going forward. There are many models to go by that can help the person stay on track and achieve his/her goal and lower the chances oft he same recurring feedback. The SMART model is a classic one and stands for setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This mnemonic serves as a guideline to the person giving the feedback to stay specific in his/her topics and the person receiving it to set goals that are achievable and clear. It is a win-win situation.

It’s a two way street

To empower someone to change any small or large behavior it is important to listen to him/her, establish honest and open communication that relies on mutual respect and trust. Perhaps there is a good reason why the person reacted in a certain way in that particular situation. One-way topdown feedback could make the person become closed off and even hostile, which will have a negative impact on future feedback sessions and hinder communication.

In the agile world the motto „build, measure, learn“ dictates the pace and progress of development. This concept relies on feedback and is what leads to better products and applications. Why not take inspiration from it, and engage in constructive and effective interpersonal feedback? The worst that can happen is that we experience more harmoniousrelationships in the workplace, higher productivity, and continuous learning. There is definitely worse than that.