top of page

The five rules of feedback

Updated: Jul 5

When delivered properly, feedback can be a wonderful gift. A simple conversation can inspire someone to go for a big promotion or help them to form more productive behaviours. But if it’s delivered badly, feedback can also destroy confidence and stifle future creativity. Most workplaces will have feedback mechanisms, like probationary reviews or regular supervisions, in place. But many don’t offer enough guidance on what you should say or how you should say it. With little support, managers often avoid giving ‘negative’ feedback, which means that employees miss out on vital opportunities to learn and grow. With that in mind, I’ve compiled five top tips to help you to deliver effective feedback with confidence.

Pick the right place and time Feedback works best when both parties are in a good frame of mind and ready for a two-way conversation. Find a private space where you can’t be overheard or watched through a glass wall. Don’t try to give feedback on the hoof between stressful meetings and definitely don’t wait until an after-work pub session. Drinks and feedback never mix well! When it comes to timings, the sooner you can speak to your colleague about a particular event or behaviour, the better. If you’ve been silently stewing over something that’s relatively harmless for months – perhaps a missed deadline or a clumsy piece of work - then it’s best to wait until this behaviour reoccurs before you try to discuss it.

Stick to the facts and be clear about next steps Come to the conversation prepared with facts and figures that support your feedback. Remember it’s the conduct or work of the employee that’s being judged - not the person. Leave any motives other than the intent to improve performance at the door. People can’t read your mind, so set out the alternative behaviour or action that’s required with clear examples. Don’t expect someone to hear what they did wrong and then guess how they should act in the future.

Be true, useful and kind When giving feedback, always try to be positive in intent, language and delivery. The actual feedback can be negative but it should be delivered as compassionately as possible. As humans, we’re more likely to pay attention to negative feedback than positive feedback. In evolutionary terms, this is a useful trait; the early humans who paid attention to threats and took evasive action were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. But in the modern workplace, this tendency to focus on the negative is more of a hindrance. To even up this negative bias, try giving three positive comments for every one negative comment that you need to deliver.

If you can’t own it – don’t say it When it comes to feedback, you can’t hide behind someone else’s comment or give anonymous opinions. If you’re asked to expand on an anonymous comment, then you’ll only be able to guess at the detail. You might even be basing your feedback on an inaccurate version of events. If you pass on second-hand feedback, then you could be sharing something that was told to you in confidence. You also run the risk of demonstrating that there are conversations going on behind your colleague's back. The most genuinely helpful feedback will always be based on behaviour that you have observed directly. Expect to revisit the conversation Don't expect miracles in one session. Sometimes feedback can be too much, too soon. Give the person you’re talking to a chance to digest the information you’ve shared and be prepared to revisit the conversation again at a later date. You might need to chat things through a few times before you get your breakthrough.


bottom of page