How to Give Effective Feedback That Leads to Positive Change

by Scott Jeffrey

A coach stands on the sidelines, peering over all of his players in movement.

When he sees a player doing something suboptimal, he pulls that player aside to offer feedback.

The coach’s objective is to improve the performance of his players. He sees things the players on the field can’t see.

Outperforming entrepreneurs and executives often have this coaching style of leadership in their repertoire.

Offering effective feedback is a skill. Like all skills, this skill can be learned and continuously improved.

What is Effective Feedback?

Feedback is effective when the recipient is able to receive the information and adjust his or her behavior accordingly.

Feedback is not criticism, condemnation or judgment. Feedback is critical for positive learning environments.

Effective feedback arrives with the spirit of improvement of the individual and the team. Effective feedback moves the individual toward the best version of themselves in various areas of their lives and work.

Seven Characteristics of Effective Feedback

Here are seven principles to keep in mind when offering feedback to your employees, team members, and children:

Feedback is continuous and in the moment.

The most effective feedback is given right at or near the time the issue requiring feedback is raised.

Feedback is honest and conversational.

A supportive leader doesn’t talk down to others, but he or she is real with them. Backhanded comments or passive-aggressive behavior undermine the feedback process.

Feedback is inquisitive instead of forceful.

Empower others with self-directed questions. Guide them with questions instead of instructing through demands. Look to have team members take ownership for their work.

Feedback is based on a larger vision.

The team’s ultimate vision is what fuels the feedback, not a drive for personal gain or power over others.

Feedback is specific, not general.

Offer specific feedback with clear action steps directed toward achieving an objective or increasing performance.

Feedback is descriptive, not critical.

Critical and judgmental comments destroy performance as it reduces motivation. Effective feedback is highly descriptive and points to ways for improvement.

Feedback is mainly focused on building strengths instead of highlighting weaknesses.

If your feedback is always focused on the person’s weaknesses, it’s going to frustrate both of you. Do your best to work around certain weaknesses and capitalize on the employee’s best qualities and attributes that ultimately serve themselves and the business.

how to give effective feedback

How to Overcome People’s Resistance to Feedback

Most people don’t like hearing about their flaws. The ego of the average person is fragile. It likes to think it’s perfect; it hates hearing that it’s not—partly a result of having a fixed mindset.

How do you offer feedback in a way in which others will be receptive to hearing it?

To overcome the resistance people have to receive feedback, try to help others come to the necessary conclusions on their own.

Whenever possible, allow them to take ownership of improving their performance.

The Power of Questions

One way of accomplishing this is through the artful use of questions.

When you’re reviewing an employee’s proposal, for example, you might ask:

  • What’s the primary objective of the proposal?
  • Do you feel this proposal has achieved this objective?
  • Do you see places where the project may be improved?
  • If there was a primary message that needed to be clarified, what might it be?
  • What is the ideal response you’re looking for from this pitch?
  • How else can you help ensure that it will receive that response?

This line of questioning allows the person to become aware of areas of improvement and take ownership of the changes.

Well-crafted questions circumvent the ego’s defense mechanisms.

Of course, your tone and intention in engaging others is another important factor. If you come across as arrogant, all-knowing, and impatient, it doesn’t matter how well-crafted your questions are.

If, however, you genuinely want to see the person succeed, he or she will intuit your intention and push for higher performance.

To overcome the feedback barrier: Don’t command, criticize, or dictate. Instead, ask permission.

May I offer a few suggestions on this project?

Criticism raises people’s defense mechanisms; compassion reduces it. Ask questions with the intention of bringing out the best performance and best qualities in others. If you do, everyone wins.

The Art of Giving Effective Feedback

Finally, an effective coach is always available and listens to his players. He owns his feedback.

Yes, you can ask for feedback on your feedback. If your team members trust you, they will feel comfortable giving you honest comments upon your request.

Players listen to great coaches not because they are authority figures, but because they respect their coach and know that the coach has the players’ and the team’s best interest in mind.

Your employees will welcome your feedback when they feel you genuinely care and want to support them.

All effective communication comes from the heart. Business may be business, but people are still people.

When people know you genuinely care, they will genuinely listen.

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