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Feedback LanguageThat Is Best Received: 5 Good and 5 Bad Approaches

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Sure, everyone’s different in how they like their feedback, but there’s no mistaking that they all want feedback.

Tons of recent research says that employees today–particularly younger and ambitious workers–DO want honest feedback from their boss on a frequent basis. They like positive feedback, but they crave constructive criticism even more. The question is how best to deliver it. Here are some tips:

Good Approaches

1. Describe behavior you observed

Examples: “That graphic loads very slowly,” or “The last two meetings went an hour over our set time”

Team members really need to understand what action (or lack of action) you are giving them feedback on. Since they didn’t see the problem in the first place, they need you to identify the specific behavior you want to see.

2. Explain the business impact of their behavior.

Examples:  “Half of our customers paid late when they didn’t receive notices on time” or “The leaders of those 2 groups offered to share some budget after you explained the benefits to them.”

Team members are often unaware of why they should or shouldn’t do something a certain way. You are in a position to show them a bigger picture and how their actions fit into that picture.

3. Suggest specific next steps.

Examples: “Would you mind reviewing your steps with the rest of the group as they are eager to learn this?” or “I suggest sending those messages out a week earlier next month.”

Make sure every feedback conversation ends with clearly understood next steps. For positive feedback, it can be as simple as “Keep up the good work.”

4. Ask for their ideas on how to improve the situation, if the next steps are not simple or obvious.

Examples: “How can we build the morale of those two on your team?” or “What do you think you can do to speed up that process?”

Open up a discussion about the solution and get full agreement about next steps.

5. Offer to coach them further.

Examples: “After you’ve tried that, let me know how it went and we can discuss additional approaches” or “If you’d like to rehearse your message to that group, let’s meet tomorrow.”

Particularly where a new skill is required, realize the person will need a learning process and you can usually help or recommend other resources.

Bad Approaches 

1. Vague feedback

Examples: “This will work for now” or “I like your positive attitude”

If you need someone to improve or if you want them to keep doing something that’s great, you have to let them know what to improve or repeat.

2. Making it too personal

Examples: “I need you to start calling people ahead of time” or “You are too shy with that group. I would like to see you toughen up with them.”

Too much use of “you” and “I need you to” makes people uncomfortable. Talk about the behavior or business result as an observation you can share.

3. Making it parental

Examples: “I’m so proud of you. You have really matured on the job.” or “You will thank me later, even though it’s hard to hear now.”

This is similar to the too-personal approach but worse. It is an overall turn-off and may evoke a rebellious response.

4. Overgeneralization

Examples: “You guys are never on time,” or “You don’t understand the legal ramifications.”

These shut down your recipients and make them feel defeated and less able to recover from your judgment.

5.  Angry or emotional expressions

Examples: “I’ve had it” or “This is unacceptable” 

Try to calm down until you get clear on what you are asking for. The negative emotion in your voice will definitely create a fight or flight reaction in your team member’s brain.

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