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How to Give Effective Feedback

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Feedback is a powerful tool used by facilitators, trainers and managers. Used properly feedback can enhance individual development, but used ineptly it can be highly destructive. This article covers what feedback is, the different types of feedback, the characteristics of good feedback and how to deliver effective feedback.

What is feedback?

An everyday example of feedback is when a driver is trying to back into a parking space and another person holds up their hands to show the size of the gap between the car which is being parked and the next car. In this case the driver is being given information on parking performance which cannot be readily seen by the driver alone. In indivdual development we are also interested in communicating the effect behaviour has on other people. So, our definition of feedback is:

Communication which is intended to make a person aware of their own performance and the effect their behaviour has on other people.

Feedback, by itself, without additional comments or suggestions can be a powerful tool for improving performance and modifying behaviour. This power is increased considerably if feedback is given in realtionship to previously agreed goals. Giving feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, respect for the other person and self-respect.

Types of feedback

There are three types of feedback: positive feedback, constructive feedback and negative feedback.

Positive feedback
Positive feedback applies to situations where the person did a good job. It consists of simple praise, but is even more powerfully reinforcing when it specifically highlights why or how the person did a good job.

Constructive feedback
Constructive feedback highlights how the person could do better next time. It needs to be delivered sensitively.

Negative feedback
Negative feedback — merely replaying something that went wrong — is essentially destructive and is only used, usually by accident, to terminate friendships and marriages. It describes a perceived negative behaviour, without proposing a resolution ('You're always complaining').

Characteristics of good feedback

It is not judgemental
Making judgemental statements such as ‘You really are a bad listener’ is not very useful and they can cause the receiver to react defensively. Instead of judging, you should describe what you observed — and not what you have inferred. Give feedback on behaviour, not what you perceive to be personal characteristics.

It is accurate and specific
A far better approach is to describe a specific incident that you have seen for yourself — do not feedback rumour and hearsay, e.g. ‘At the end of the lesson you interrupted Hazel before she could finish explaining her problem.’

Its purpose is to help the receiver
Sometimes we give feedback to make ourselves feel better. It helps us to get things off our chests. This might be good for the giver but it does nothing for the receiver. Ensure that the only reason for giving feedback is to help the receiver improve performance.

It is about behaviour that can be changed
Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some shortcoming that cannot be controlled.

It is clear
One way of making sure that the feedback is clear is to have the receiver paraphrase the feedback.

It is sufficient
Enough feedback should be given to make the person aware of their behaviour without making them feel that they are under pressure or are being attacked.

It is timely
Generally, feedback is most effective immediately after the behaviour. The exception to this is when the receivers are not ready to hear the feedback, such as when they are feeling depressed or are elated.

How to deliver feedback

Effective delivery of feedback specifically communicates pleasure or concern, avoids accusations and consists of three elements: behaviour, feelings and effect. The following table describes the elements and gives examples.

 ElementWhat you doExample
1.Behaviour Give a non-judgemental description of the specific behaviour. ‘When you were late this morning...
2.Feelings Describe your feelings. ...I was really concerned...
3.Effect State the concrete effects that the behaviour is having. ...that we will not meet our deadline.’

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