Providing effective feedback

I’ve written before about the importance of seeking feedback, but what about providing it? Thanks to my work with Toastmasters International and the projects I’ve run with freelancers, I’ve recognised the importance of being able to provide good quality, useful feedback. There are countless ways to provide feedback, but it all starts with being clear upfront about what was expected from the person receiving feedback.

If feedback is to be useful, the person receiving it must do two things;

  1. Understand it.
  2. Respect the opinion of the person giving it.

With this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can provide effective feedback;

  1. Effective feedback is specific, not general. One of the purposes of effective feedback is to let an individual know what you would like to see more of. General feedback might elicit an emotional response but is unlikely to improve future work. For example, turning to a graphic designer and saying ‘make it look prettier’ isn’t particularly useful. Instead, make suggestions about colour, layout and typography to provide a better understanding of what you’re expecting.
  2. Effective feedback needs to be sincere and honest. No one likes insincerity, and feedback given disingenuously will only raise hackles and put people’s backs up.
  3. Effective feedback describes actions or behaviour that the individual can do something about. Offering to provide further guidance, time and support to the person will help them to improve in the right way.
  4. Effective feedback involves what or how something was done; not why. Awful things happen with the best of intentions and questioning people’s motivations often provokes a defensive response. Instead, try focussing on how something happened; how the good can be replicated and the bad prevented.
  5. Effective feedback is consistent. If you like something today, you like it tomorrow as well. Likewise, if behaviour necessitates a reprimand today, it necessitates the same reprimand every other day that behaviour occurs.
  6. Effective feedback checks that the person receiving it understands what they’re being told. Ask questions and arrange follow-up sessions to see whether the feedback has changed performance or if any addition actions are needed.

Feedback is fantastic to receive, but I think it’s important to build your ability to deliver it as well. Be genuine, sincere and helpful in your feedback. Try not to offer unsolicited ‘advice’ but if you can clearly identify something which is a real issue, don’t be afraid to communicate in an attempt to correct it.

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