Giving Feedback Doesn’t Have to Feel Like a Rootcanal (No offense to the dentists out there!)

Based on the reactions I get when I mention the phrase “giving feedback,” I sense people would rather have a root canal without pain medication than have a feedback conversation!

However, feedback is critical!

Consider the barista who whips up your morning cappuccino. Don’t you want them to know that they have frothed the milk and given you just the right ratio of espresso, milk, and foam kicking your morning off to a great start? Feedback is an essential element of how we get work done and we give it all the time. Your favorite brands systematically seek feedback from customers to learn about what they like and what they don’t to improve a product or service.

So, what makes giving feedback to colleagues or even a boss so different?

Feedback should be a frequently occurring event in organizations. The best organizations have a culture where real-time, candid feedback is simply how things get done. When it’s done often and effectively, you are most likely offering praise for work well done. This builds trust. And then, when you do have to deliver constructive or improvement insights, it’s not a dreaded feat, it’s simply part of how things get done.

While giving feedback is important, it can be nerve-wracking for both parties, especially when power dynamics are at play (i.e. sharing feedback with a boss or client). Below, are five tried and true tips to help you navigate the process of sharing with others how their behavior impacts you, what you need from them, or when they’ve violated boundaries.

Don’t wing it.

Prepare what you want to say and the key takeaways the person should walk away with. Schedule a time to have the conversation so that it isn’t rushed. Let them know that you have some observations based on a recent interaction. Finally, ask questions and be curious so you engage in a dialogue, not a one-way data dump.

State a behavior you’d like to see changed.

The purpose of feedback is to let the person know what’s working so they keep doing it and what’s not working so they can make a shift. More often than not, we share a list of what a person is doing “wrong,” without being clear on what needs to change. When sharing feedback, make a specific behavior modification Making it about the behavior and not the person makes it less personal, clarifies expectations, and how the person can fulfill those expectations. If someone feels attacked or, conversely, they are not sure how to improve, they may simply check out. This leads to decreased morale, avoidance and ultimately causes employee engagement to plummet. Whether we’re talking about managers or employees, everyone should be clear on specific behaviors they should continue or discontinue. Watch this great video on giving feedback, real time.

Come from a place of caring.

It takes tremendous courage to give feedback and tremendous humility to receive feedback. Consider feedback as a gift. As such, reframe the discussion so that it is beneficial to the person, recognizing the other party’s strengths and how the feedback is meant to encourage professional development. Consider how the receiver may take your input and pick a time, place and style of communicating that suits the individual’s needs, not your own. Be mindful that some people struggle with difficult discussions.

Avoid blame.

The purpose of feedback is not to place blame or fault. When team members feel they are being blamed, they may respond defensively. When people are defensive, they’re unable to hear or think clearly and they focus on self-preservation. The goal is to avoid blame and seek accountability. Accountability says, “This happened, and let’s work together to fix it.” Blame says, “You did this and you’re terrible or stupid for doing so.”

Pick a time to follow up.

Everyone processes information differently; some become defensive upon hearing critical feedback, while others welcome it. Regardless of the initial response, most people need time to unpack what they’ve heard. Schedule a time to follow up and answer questions; ask if your colleague has questions or thoughts and, generally, if the individual is clear on next steps. Be accountable to each other and follow up. Follow-up is essential to long-term behavior modification and for both parties to check in to determine whether the receiver is making progress.

Everything gets easier with practice.

Practice feedback by sharing specifics around the situation, behavior, and impact while delivering positive feedback. You probably have many opportunities every day to say thank you to a colleague! Be specific. Tell them how it made your day and what you’d like to see them keep doing. While few people rush into difficult conversations, we hope you’ll consider these recommendations next time you give feedback. And, reach out and let us know if this was helpful to you.



Shaara Roman is founder and managing partner of the Silverene Group, a boutique firm that consults with organizations to help them create amazing workplaces. The company supports leaders as they build engaging cultures. Follow the Silverene Group on Twitter at @silverenegroup.

The Silverene Group is proud to be a 100% minority, woman owned business.