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June 3, 2024

Giving Feedback Effectively and with Impact


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Giving feedback that is constructive, and usable can be tricky. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. In this article, we will study principles and approaches for delivering feedback with finesse. We will also look at how constructive criticism is necessary for growth and development.

There is an art to giving feedback. It should be helpful in content and agreeable in delivery. It seeks to help the recipient of said feedback be better and, in a professional context, contribute more effectively to the team or organisation. However, that’s easier said than done.

For feedback to be taken well and acted on, what matters is not just what you say but how you say it.
For feedback to be taken well and acted on, what matters is not just what you say but how you say it.

There are pros and cons for both positive and negative feedback. Negative feedback, especially, can be difficult to give and receive. It can be demotivating and destructive. However, it can be corrective and highlight missed opportunities. Positive feedback and praise are encouraging, and motivating and point out actions or behaviours that should be repeated or emulated. Too much of it, on the other hand, undermines its value while sweeping real problems under the rug.

Giving feedback effectively takes skill, and requires balance and smart communication. Let’s take a look at some ideas and techniques that will help you deliver feedback constructively.  

Be FASTA

When giving constructive feedback, keep in mind the principles of F.A.S.T.A. F = frequent, A = accurate, S = specific, T = timely, and A = actionable. 

Frequent

Feedback should not be a one-off affair. Ideally, we ought to receive different kinds of feedback and criticisms throughout our personal and professional lives so that we keep growing and learning. There should also be progress tracking and follow-ups. As such, the frequency of feedback is important. While most organisations have some form of performance appraisal at least once a year, it would be more helpful if feedback to team members is given on a more regular basis.

Accurate

Ensure you have all the facts, data, and context before providing feedback. This is especially important when team members may be working remotely or even spread out across the globe. Accuracy and correct information enable you to make decisions and give feedback fairly and reliably.

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Specific

Effective feedback is specific. Avoid vague, broad statements and generalisations, or using phrases such as “you always…”. Even phrases such as “you were great” or “you did well” mean little without clarification.

When providing feedback, remember to make it frequent, accurate, specific, timely and actionable
When providing feedback, remember to make it frequent, accurate, specific, timely and actionable

Identify a particular behaviour or action and focus on it. Be direct, quote specific examples, and don’t drift into other issues or bring up the past.

Additionally, be targeted and prioritise what needs to be addressed. There’s no point in giving someone a list of 27 items to improve upon; it’s too much to remember, too overwhelming, and will only demoralise the recipient. 

Timely

While there is an appropriate time and place to give feedback, try to do so promptly while the incident is still fresh. Delayed feedback can cause a missed opportunity for improvement. However, if either party is feeling angry, upset, or frustrated, allow time to cool off before starting the conversation. Also, if your feedback is mainly negative, take time to prepare before jumping in.

Actionable

Feedback is useful only if the recipient is able to take action upon it, whether that is to fix a negative or improve on a positive. Shift the conversation to “what next”. This means giving suggestions for improvement or alternative ideas. You can also ask questions that lead the recipient to reflect and come up with solutions or improvements on their own. This will help the recipient to own the feedback and be responsible for their own growth and learning.

The criticism quadrant

Picture a quadrant with these categories: negative-destructive, positive-destructive, negative-constructive, positive-constructive.

The negative-destructive is when you say “no” without explanations, reasons, or alternatives. The recipient is simply told that his idea is bad and has been rejected. There is no suggestion for improvement or guidance as to what went wrong. As you can imagine, this does not help the individual; neither does it move the organisation toward its goal.

The positive-destructive can be described as the “yes, but…”. Often, the token positivity is given to soften the blow of what the speaker actually wants to say, which is that the idea really wasn’t that good. 

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The negative-constructive goes along the lines of “no, because…”. This is when an individual is told that he or she is wrong, and then given reasons and explanations. The recipient may also be given the “correct” answer. This method can work in certain situations, for example, during crises or when decisions have to be made in urgency.

Positive-constructive feedback reaffirms and reinforces good performance, but also encourages reflection when the recipient is guided toward areas of improvement.
Positive-constructive feedback reaffirms and reinforces good performance, but also encourages reflection when the recipient is guided toward areas of improvement.

The positive-constructive can be summarised with “yes, and…”. This is when you highlight the good points in an idea, build on that, and guide the recipient to think further and deeper. If there are weaknesses in the idea, you steer the recipient toward them and ask probing questions that encourage him or her to clarify or work on the problems. This method allows for collaboration as both the giver and recipient of the feedback combine their ideas. It also stimulates growth for the recipient as he or she works through problems on their own because the feedback was given in a helpful, constructive manner.   

The Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) method

This method is handy when there’s a behaviour or action that needs to be corrected. Begin by explaining the situation, then describe the behaviour that requires improvement, followed by how the behaviour impacts the team or organisation. 

Here’s an example: “Brian, you missed your deadline for submission of your slides. When you miss your deadline for the quarterly report, there’s a snowball effect on the people who have to work on it after you. You reduce the amount of time they have or cause them to be late. The quality of work suffers also. Ultimately, it looks bad on the whole team.”

You should state the desired behaviour or correction you wish to see. Some models include an additional element: feelings. You can ask the person what they think or feel about their behaviour and the impact it has on others. Or, in a more personal setting, you can share your feelings about how the negative behaviour impacted you.

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Use the SBI method to promptly address an action or behaviour you wish to correct. You can also use it to deliver positive feedback specifically and meaningfully.
Use the SBI method to promptly address an action or behaviour you wish to correct. You can also use it to deliver positive feedback specifically and meaningfully.

It is important to be very specific when using this model. Describe the situation or behaviour clearly and avoid bringing past occurrences into the discussion. 

The 3×3 method

In situations where you are giving feedback on a regular basis, the 3×3 is a simple and useful method. It basically involves providing three positive and three negative points. This allows for a more focused discussion and prevents the person receiving the feedback from being overloaded with too much information. 

As the giver of feedback, you should be honest and specific. If you have enough points for only 2×2, that’s fine; there’s no need to root around for more. The idea is to balance the recipient’s strengths and weaknesses so that they keep moving upward. 

Have their best interest in mind

Whichever method you use, the key is to have a genuine desire to help others grow and develop. Flowing from that mindset is the respect, empathy, and support that will aid in the delivery of feedback so that it is well received. Remember that constructive feedback is necessary for the well-being of the individual and organisation. A Gallup poll of 1,003 US employees showed that those who were ignored or not given any feedback were more likely to be actively disengaged, which is bad news for any organisation. Interestingly, another survey found that individuals prefer receiving suggestions for improvement over positive feedback about their performance. That’s because having honest, “negative” feedback is how we know that something is not right and needs to be fixed. Negative feedback or criticism delivered in a constructive way is essential to improving performance.

All feedback should come from a place of sincerity and concern for others. You should genuinely want to help the other person be better and more effective
All feedback should come from a place of sincerity and concern for others. You should genuinely want to help the other person be better and more effective

Some of us are uncomfortable receiving and providing feedback, whether negative or positive. However, these conversations are a necessary part of life, both at work and at home. It helps us and those around us to learn and grow. Coaching is one way to improve interpersonal and communication skills so that giving and receiving feedback becomes easier. Get in touch with us to find out how coaching can help you.

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