Healthy Leaders


How to Deliver Feedback Effectively

Adrian PeiAdrian Pei

This is the fifth part in a series on giving and receiving feedback.

Part 1 – How to Make Feedback Fun (Really!)
Part 2 – How to Decide If and When to Give Feedback
Part 3 – Feedback: The First and Most Important Thing to Say
Part 4 – The Difference Between Flattery and Appreciation
Part 6 – Putting Negative Feedback into Perspective
Part 7 – How to Receive Feedback Graciously
Part 8 – Disagreement ≠ Defensiveness
Part 9 – Feedback and Ethnicity

Okay, we’ve said the first and most important thing to start a feedback conversation. Now what?

First of all, here are some technical details:

Deliver the feedback in person if at all possible. If not possible, use a video call … but avoid e-mail at all costs.

Deliver the feedback directly with a person, one-on-one. In general, don’t do it in a group setting or through another person. Don’t say, “My friend told me she thought you were acting a little strange at dinner.”  Speak for yourself, and let your friend speak for him or herself.

Now that we’re ready to have the actual conversation, here are the most important things I’m learning to do, along with some examples of what we might say. Let me start by writing out one example that should help illustrate:

“Bill, thanks for making the time to talk. You are one of our most skilled and gifted leaders, and you’ve invested many valuable hours into creating this volunteer service program. I truly believe your program can have a huge impact on the community, and so I wanted to share some constructive feedback in the hopes of helping it to succeed. First of all though, I want you to know how much I love the clear way you organized the program, and the thoughtfulness behind the interactive exercises. My biggest concern is the length and some of the wording which I fear may be a little overwhelming for participants. I hope my feedback came across in the right way. What are you hearing me say?”

I wrote out this example, because I wanted to illustrate that a feedback conversation doesn’t have to be incredibly long or complicated. The paragraph above only takes about 35 seconds to say (you can time it), and then goes straight into interaction with the person. Don’t be deterred by thinking it will take you forever to do!

But each of the elements in the paragraph is intentional and important, so let’s break them down one-by-one:

1. Affirm & Acknowledge: This must come first.

Affirm the Person: As we start giving feedback, first affirm the relationship and explain why it matters to us. Don’t just say, “I value you.”  Say: “I value you as a colleague who’s been a valuable contributor to our team and company” or “You are an important person in my life, and our friendship has helped me to grow a lot as a person.”

Acknowledge the Journey: Next, acknowledge the effort or journey of the person. “You’ve worked many hours, and poured your heart and soul into this project. It must not have been an easy process.”  Or: “We’ve been through a lot together, and you’ve persisted through the ups and downs.”

2. Explain our Heart and Purpose.

Communicate the heart behind why you want to give feedback. “I really believe in this project, and want it (and you) to succeed, but I feel it can be even better. That’s why I wanted to give you some feedback.”  Or: “I want our relationship to be even closer, but I’ve been sensing some resistance in my interactions with you, and I wanted to talk about it in hopes that we can resolve anything that needs resolving.”

3. List the Positive.

Share some of the good things first. “Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things I see in your project. Here are three specific things I love, and why.”

4. Address the Main Issue or Concern Concisely.

Now share the most important concern or issue you’re wanting to give feedback on, or work through. Try to keep it to one or at most two things, and keep it concise. More than that tends to be overwhelming and confusing for people.

5. Interact about the Main Issue.

Ask Them to Summarize: “I hope that came across in the right way. What are you hearing me say?”  Give them space to share how they would paraphrase your feedback to them. This is one of the most important steps!  It will help you understand how they are taking in and interpreting what you said.

Clarify (if necessary) and Engage: If you feel they didn’t hear you in the way you intended, feel free to clarify or try again. And then engage with them about the topic ‒ back and forth ‒ as needed. It may be helpful to offer resources and constructive possibilities, if we can do that without making it seem we know better or are trying to “take over.”

6. Affirm the relationship, and thank them for their time.

7. Follow Up

Are you interested in writing for Head on over to our Write for Us page to submit an article!

Adrian Pei