Karolina Numminen
Two women having a conversation at a white table in a cafe.

Rethinking Feedback Part 3: Give Better Feedback

In part three of this series, I’m diving into the art of giving feedback. Whether you're a manager or a colleague, we all give feedback almost daily. Here are some tips to help you do it better. This article is packed with practical tips and insights to get you thinking about your feedback-giving skills. I am also sharing some of my favorite resources at the end. So, let’s get right into it.

1. Give When Asked

Feedback works best when it's wanted. If they didn't ask, they're less likely to listen. Regular reviews and 1:1s are an exception. But even these situations are most productive when approached by giving the power to the one receiving feedback. Ask them what they want feedback on. Turn feedback sessions into beneficial two-way discussions.

To make sure people come to you seeking feedback, create a safe space where people can come to you and discuss their work without fearing getting slapped in the face with sandwich feedback at any given moment.

2. Feedback ≠ Advice

What I see a lot, especially in new leaders, is that instead of listening to what the person actually needs, they approach giving feedback as lectures or passing on their wisdom. This often leaves people confused and feeling like they are not really getting what they came for.

Learn the difference between someone asking for feedback and someone asking for advice. If people ask how they're doing, focus on them. 

And remember, don’t mask criticisms as feedback. If there is a problem, obviously address it, but don’t call it a feedback discussion when that’s not what’s happening. Trust me, people will start dreading the word ‘feedback’ coming from you

3. Understand Feedback's Many Faces

Good feedback doesn’t mean only praising. I like to think of giving good feedback as giving something valuable; something to think about, concrete areas and ways to improve, acknowledging what someone has been doing well and how to build upon it further, or encouraging someone to do something differently. 

Great feedback givers are able to recognize growth, effort, and success. They also look at different aspects of someone’s performance that go beyond the outcome, like how they prepared and showed up and how they grew in handling a particular situation. 

Examples to try:

  • I see that you have grown in x
  • I know this project/situation/task was challenging, and you managed really well
  • You have worked really hard on x
  • I noticed your effort in x

4. Use Feedback as a Tool to Build Independence

Another common mistake I see is giving feedback as a step-by-step guide to solve a problem. Now, this doesn’t have to be automatically negative, again when someone specifically asks for it, but be very careful if this is something you want to do long-term. 

Although it might seem like the quickest solution, you are setting yourself up for getting swamped with problems and questions whenever you open Slack or show up in the office. 

So, ask questions first. If people ask you how well you think they did, ask them for their input first, and then actually listen and guide the discussion accordingly. 

Some questions that will help you have a productive feedback discussion and build independence: 

  • How have you been doing lately?
  • What is something that you think you did really well in this project?
  • Is there something you would like to get better at?
  • Where do you think you have grown in the past three months?
  • Where would you like to grow in the next year, and what do you think you will need to learn and do to achieve it?

5. Work on You

Learn to recognize your urges to comment on someone's performance and think twice before saying it out loud. Does the person actually need to hear this? Will it help them? Or does it trigger you for some reason that they approach things differently than you would? 

Giving top-notch feedback means continuously working on yourself and challenging your views and biases.

And never mix up performance, behavior, and personality. Only the first two are on the table for feedback discussion.

6. Read the Room

The best feedback suits the moment. Know what's happening in your team's world. Someone acing tasks? Recognize it and challenge them! Someone struggling? Maybe hold off on critiques. 

Always try to understand what they're really seeking with feedback- is it praise, validation, confidence boost, or genuine question to know how to do better? Recognizing what the person needs will leave both parties happy with what they got from the discussion. 

7. Avoid These Feedback Fails:

Vague phrases

Empty phrases that mask as good feedback but don’t actually provide any value:

  • ‘There aren’t any issues with you’
  • ‘Noone’s complained about you lately’
  • ‘I have nothing negative to say’

Drop the game of ‘let’s see how closely you match my opinion’ 

I see managers doing this all the time. As coaching has made its way to the business world, managers have learned to ask questions but still struggle with actually listening and building upon the answers. 

Approaching performance as a genuine discussion is much more rewarding for both sides. So don’t just brush over the question part as a useless step before the ‘real’ feedback begins. 

Don’t pull skeletons out of closets

Feedback sessions are not a place where you bring up mistakes the person made months ago, and you have been keeping them as excellent content to discuss during a performance review. Acting this way or, even worse, using it as a reason why the person won’t get a salary increase is the ultimate knife in the back and the fastest way to lose your team's trust.

Discuss any shortcomings in performance that you recognize (or perceive) immediately and give the chance to make things better with your help.

Karolina Numminen

Want to practice your feedback skills further?

Let’s analyze where you’re at and talk about how getting better at feedback giving could make you a better leader!

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Wrapping Up... 

Your feedback approach is crucial to your leadership success. Whether you’re giving peer or managerial feedback, refining this skill is a game-changer. Let's create better workplaces together!

Additional Resources

HBR Article ‘When your employee doesn’t take feedback’- A must-read!

Squiggly Careers Podcast: Handy tips to upgrade your feedback game.

Books: "Mindset" by Carol Dweck and "Dare to Lead" by Brené Brown. Trust me, they're gold!

Karolina Numminen
Author:
Karolina Numminen

Hi there!

Thank you for reading! I'm Karolina, a career coach with a passion for helping people have fulfilling and successful career journeys. I love writing about all things work and sharing the insights I’ve gained from years of coaching clients.

I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn and continue the conversation. I’m always curious about different professions and career paths!

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