Giving Feedback: Not the Cringe-Worthy Kind



Giving feedback can be terrifying. While it’s a necessary skill to be a good leader, people tend to freeze when they have to give feedback – and forget to make the feedback useful. Even when the feedback is useful, people taking it on the other end might get upset, defensive and even argumentative if the feedback is delivered in a way that’s…less than ideal. Even if it’s delivered in the best-and-most-research-forward way possible, who knows how the person on the other end will receive that feedback?

While we can’t control the way anyone responds to our communication style, we can control our own manner of communicating. By preparing yourself to give feedback, you can deal with what comes up in the moment with (a bit more) ease. Here are three filters to apply to your feedback to set it – and the person receiving it – up for success in both work and personal situations:


When you’re giving feedback, you need to make sure it’s clear, concise, and to the point. Saying something is ‘wrong’ isn’t helpful if you want the person receiving the feedback to make a change. A good way to look at the specificity of feedback: first, say it out loud and see if it makes sense. Then, ask it some questions. For example:

You need to do better with your work.

Yes, it makes sense – first test passed! Second test. What does ‘do better’ mean? Is ‘your work’ specific? Will the person getting the feedback understand what they need to do better with? Is it all of their work, or just some of it? The more specific YOU are, the better they can target what you want them to target.


Are you giving feedback on something that just happened or something that happened months ago? If it’s something that happened a while ago and you’re only now getting around to giving feedback, chances are the other person won’t remember what the issue was, or they’ll think you’ve been harboring resentment about this ‘thing’ that you’re giving feedback on. On top of that, a 2011 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows people given immediate feedback perform better than those who receive delayed feedback. Timing matters.

If too much time has passed and it hasn’t happened again, no matter what that ‘it’ is, move along. If you can’t, think about why you’re still thinking about it: does it affect you? Does it matter? If it’s something that happens often, giving the feedback in close proximity to the occurrence will generally have the best result.

When you’re considering timeliness, also look at the larger picture. Are you giving the feedback on a day when you know that person is struggling? Or a day when you know you don’t have the most patience? There might not be a perfect time to give feedback – just aim for a better time than one where everyone is feeling less than great.


Quite a few people use a sandwich technique to give feedback – they stick a compliment on the other side of criticism, hoping to soften the blow. This is actually a pretty great strategy IF you remove one little word: but.

The word ‘but’ elevates one thing over another – for example, if you were to say, ‘Tina I think you’re doing a great job with your reports, but you need to put more effort into the customer’ you’ve elevated the criticism over the compliment, essentially negating what you did to ease someone into getting a critique.

When using this sandwich method, you can accomplish the original goal by substituting AND for BUT – you’re then equalizing the two statements, making the compliment as important and valuable as the feedback. Saying ‘Tina I think you’re doing a great job with reports and you need to put more effort into the customer’ makes both parts of the sentence balanced.

We generally view feedback as something at work – these tips can be used to give personal feedback to friends and loved ones just as much as they can be used in the office. Good luck and remember: watch that “but.”


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