How to give (and receive) feedback

Do you cringe at the thought of having to deliver feedback to a coworker? Do you instinctively become defensive when someone gives you feedback? Learn how to make both situations more comfortable and effective.

How to give feedback:

  1. Explain your reason for having the feedback session. People will be more relaxed and open if they’re not filled with uncertainty about the purpose of the conversation. Say something like, “I wanted to talk to you about how things are going so I can share my impressions and find out if you have any questions or concerns.”
  2. Ask the person for their self-assessment first. Start by inviting the person to whom you’re providing feedback for their thoughts about their performance. They might already know where they need to improve, which makes the process of delivering feedback more collaborative. And even if they’re not aware of their weaknesses, you’re still giving them a voice in the discussion. Plus, you can see how much insight they actually have into their abilities.
  3. Use the sandwich method. First say something positive, then note something that needs to be improved, then say something else positive. People may get discouraged and feel less motivated if all they hear are negative comments. Your goal is to point out their strengths as well as their areas for improvement. Often people rely on their strengths to work around or overcome their weaknesses, so it’s important to identify both.
  4. Be clear and specific. While you don’t want to be harsh, you do want to be clear and specific. Saying, “You seem a bit overwhelmed in your role” doesn’t give the person anywhere to start making changes. Give specific examples of where they fell short of expectations and then discuss how things could have gone better.
  5. Make it a two-way conversation. Don’t do all the talking. Invite input and questions from the person to whom you’re delivering feedback. Ask them how you can help them improve.
  6. End on a positive note. Reinforce the person’s strengths and what has been going well, and reiterate the specific steps you’ve discussed for improvement. Schedule a time to touch base again to see how things are going and if the changes are working.

How to receive feedback:

  1. Listen … and breathe. Don't immediately start defending yourself or making excuses (which is often the natural reaction when hearing criticism). Listen carefully and ask questions for clarification if appropriate.
  2. Think objectively. Try to view the situation as if you were giving yourself feedback. Are the comments you’re hearing justified? Do you think they describe your performance accurately? Make your best effort to set ego and emotion aside while you look at the facts of the situation.
  3. Remember the purpose of getting feedback. Your goal is not to be right, it’s to be successful in your job. You need actionable feedback to grow your career, so don’t avoid it or deflect it! In fact, make a point of seeking out feedback — there’s something to be learned from everyone you work with.
  4. Confirm that you’ve heard the feedback correctly. To ensure you and your feedback provider are on the same page, summarize what you’re hearing and repeat it back: “So, you’re saying that I…”
  5. Ask for suggestions, mentoring, or other support. You can’t be expected to magically change without the necessary guidance and training. Don’t be shy about asking for the support you need to make the requested improvements.
  6. Say thank you. Chances are, it was just as hard for the other person to give you the feedback as it was for you to hear it, so thank them for caring about your performance and making the effort to help. Request that you meet again in the near future to see if the changes you’ve agreed to make are helping. Then pat yourself on the back for accepting the feedback with a positive attitude!

Sources: Psychology Today; Inc.