Guidelines for giving feedback

As human beings, feedback is absolutely essential to our learning and growth. In the work environment, feedback helps us determine how we’re doing, and whether we should continue or change our behaviour.

  1. Focus your feedback on the person’s behaviour, not on the person’s personality. Refer to what the person does, not to what you imagine his or her traits to be. Thus, you might say that the person “talked frequently in the meeting” rather than saying the person “is domineering.” The former is an observation of what you see and hear, and the latter is an inference about the person’s character.
  2. Be descriptive, not judgmental. Refer to what occurred, not to your judgements of right and wrong, good and bad, or appropriate and inappropriate. You might say, “You do not pronounce words clearly, and you speak too softly to be heard,” rather than, “You are a terrible public speaker.” Judgements arise out of a value system. Descriptions represent neutral reporting.
  3. Focus your feedback on a specific situation rather than on abstract behaviour. What a person does is always related to a specific time and place. Feedback that ties behaviour to a specific situation increases self-awareness. Instead of saying, “You do not listen to other people,” say, “When you and John were talking just now you looked out the window and seemed to be thinking of something else.”
  4. Focus your feedback on the “here and now”, not on the “there and then.” The more immediate the feedback, the more helpful it is. Instead of saying, “Last year you didn’t speak to me in the hallway,” say, “Hey, I just said hello and you didn’t reply. Is something wrong?”
  5. Share your perceptions and feelings, not advice. By sharing perceptions and feelings, you leave other people to decide for themselves how to use the feedback in the light of their own goals in a particular situation in a particular time. When you give advice, you tell other people what to do with the information, and thereby take away their freedom to determine for themselves what is for them the most appropriate course of action. You can give feedback such as, “You look away and blush whenever Jose says hello to you,” without giving them advice such as, “You are too shy. Go ask Jose for a date.”
  6. Do not force feedback on other people. Feedback is given to help people become more self-aware and to improve their effectiveness in relating to other people. It is not given to make you feel better. Feedback should serve the needs of the receiver, not the needs of the giver. Giving feedback does release tension and increase the giver’s energy, but feedback should not be forced on the receiver. Even if you are upset and want more than anything else in the world (at that moment) to give a friend some feedback, do not give it if your friend is too upset, defensive, or uninterested to understand it
  7. Do not give people more feedback than they can understand at the time. If you overload other people with feedback, it reduces the chances that they will use it. When you give people more feedback than they can understand, you are satisfying some need for yourself rather than helping the people become more self-aware
  8. Focus your feedback on actions that the person can change. It does no good to tell people that they have a lopsided head, that you don’t like the color of their eyes, or that they are missing an ear. These are things the other person cannot change. It is helpful to give your perceptions of the effectiveness of a person’s actions.

(Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self Actualization, Johnson, 2000)

Giving and receiving feedback 

The giving and receiving of feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, and respect for yourself and others. Feedback is a sign of involvement in and commitment to the relationship. Do not give it lightly. Make sure you are willing to be responsible for what you say and to clarify as much as the receiver wants. Be sure the timing of your feedback is appropriate. Excellent feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good. Finally, remember that the purpose of feedback is to increase other people’s self-awareness and feelings that, “I am liked, I am respected, I am appreciated, I am capable, I am valued.” To invest in a relationship by providing accurate and realistic feedback is a sign of caring and commitment.

Giving Feedback Constructively

  • Give feedback on others’ behaviour, not personality.
  • Give descriptive, not judgmental feedback.
  • Give feedback on others’ actions in a specific situation, not in the abstract.
  • Give feedback on immediate behaviour, not on past behaviour.
  • Share your perceptions and feelings, not advice.
  • Give feedback only when other people ask you to.
  • Do not give people more feedback than they can understand at the time.
  • Focus your feedback on actions that the person can change.

Receiving Feedback Constructively

  • Ask for feedback on your behaviour, not personality.
  • Ask for descriptive, not judgmental feedback.
  • Ask for feedback about your actions in a specific situation, not in the abstract.
  • Ask for feedback in the immediate situation, not in past situations.
  • Ask for perceptions and feelings, not advice.
  • Do not let people force feedback on you.
  • Accept only as much feedback as you can comprehend and process.
  • Reflect on feedback only on aspects of yourself you can change.