How to Deliver Feedback Effectively
Breaking down effective feedback: 7 practical steps that can be executed in less than 1 minute.
Note: This is Part 4 of a 10-part series on feedback. I’ve compiled the entire series in a free book you can download here.
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 are 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 3 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 1 or at most 2 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.
Don’t leave this one out! I have neglected to do it, and have paid the price for it. No more than 1-2 days after your feedback conversation, e-mail or call the person and say, “Thanks again for hearing my feedback, I appreciate your willingness to engage it. How are you doing since our conversation?” Quick and simple: a two sentence e-mail will do the trick.
So these are the elements of a feedback conversation that have been most effective for me.
Again, it may feel like a lot of steps, but remember the paragraph above which took 35 seconds to say. What’s required in a feedback conversation will vary, depending on the maturity of the person we’re talking to, and our relationship and history with them. But all things being equal, I have experienced the most consistent success when I’ve included all the elements listed above.
The good news: as we practice, it will take less time and feel more and more natural to deliver feedback. And the neat thing is that we won’t feel like we have to build up as much courage to do it. But again, we won’t get comfortable unless we make feedback a more consistent and regular part of our lives and relationships!
The only way this happens is to do it. Start off by practicing it with the people you feel most comfortable with. Respond to opportunities when you’re asked for feedback or input… I just had a chance to “practice giving feedback” last week! These opportunities come up fairly often when we’re looking out for them.
Practice, and practice often! I’ve learned more by having three 5-minute feedback conversations with my wife, than by trying to memorize books or seminars. Though if you are interested in a book, check out How to Have That Difficult Conversation by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Although I haven’t read it all the way through, I’ve been greatly influenced by its principles and approach.
Thanks for reading, and in the next post we’ll cover the art of how to receive feedback well.