EYN#011 - How to Give Great Feedback

Nov 21, 2023


Read Time: 4 mins


Most people are bad at giving constructive feedback.  But I get why.  By nature I hate it and squirm when I need to give it.  If I hadn't consciously developed the skill I would still be awful at it.  It feels like a conflict and I don't love conflict.


But giving feedback is one of the most caring things you can do for people that want to improve themselves.  If people aren't aware that they’re doing something badly, then there's is no way they can ever change it.  And if they are aware, they might not know what to do about it.


Most people don't invest in the skill though and I've heard some stories about leaders giving terrible feedback.  Here's some short bad examples all based on true stories:


True Story 1

Boss: "You aren't proactive in your approach". 

Person: "Could you give me an example"

Boss: "No not really, just generally"


No specifics at all.  Not useful feedback.


True Story 2

Said to an Account Manager named Lisa (not her real name) by her boss:


Boss: "You just need to be a bit less Lisa"

Lisa: [silence - what is she supposed to do with that]


This is the worst example of feedback ever.  What was her boss thinking?


True Story 3

Boss: "You’re a bit arrogant in your approach". 

Person: "What do you mean?"

Boss: "When you talk to people you come across as arrogant"

Person: "Oh.  I don't mean to.  What is it I do?"

Boss "Well you're just arrogant"


No specific behaviours mentioned.  Just a subjective statement.  What can they do with this?



So let's dig into some top tips to improve how you deliver feedback:



You need to give feedback in a relatively quick time frame.  I`m not saying right away in the heat of the moment (sometimes that's needed) but pretty soon.  There's nothing worse than hearing feedback 4 months later in your mid-year review.  Deliver it whilst it's fresh in peoples mind.



Base all feedback on examples.  If it's a general trend you see, make a note of a number of examples.  Don’t give feedback on generics, root it in reality with genuine observations about real situations.



Behavioural Not Judgement Based

This is a bit harder to explain.  Give feedback based on observed behaviours, not judgement that you have ascribed to those behaviours.  So don't use words like "aggressive", "slow", "idiot", "arrogant", "debbie downer".  These are all words where you have observed a behaviour, subjectively judged it and ascribed a label to it. 


Instead, focus on the observed behaviours.  Things like "you said this phrase", "you raised your voice", "you pointed your finger like this", "you received the email on this day, and hadn't responded by this day", "you said XXX in your email to the customer".


Exercise Curiosity

Spend time understanding the perspective of the individual.  Were they aware of the situation.  What happened from their perspective?  What were they thinking at the time.



WIT Framework

Use the WIT framework to craft your message.  It provides a great way to approach a tricky situation.  I learnt it from Vin Ray many years ago and used it heavily throughout my leadership career.  WIT stands for When, Impact, Therefore.


When - Share the specific behaviour that you observed.


"When you raised your voice, pointed your finger and said to Darren "Just do you your ******* job""


Impact - Share the impact this had


"Darren found this very disrespectful.  He was upset by your comments and is no longer willing to support you on this project.  This means we have had to spend hours rejuggling the workload to find someone else to work with you.  It's also damaged your reputation and a number of people feel they would rather not work with you"


Therefore - Share what should be done differently


"You need to behave more calmly and respectfully.  I would suggest specific things like keeping your voice quieter, changing your body language and using more respectful language.  But I also think we need to dig into what triggered you to behave in such a way."


So there we have it.  Invest time in learning how to give great feedback.  As a leader it's one of the best things you can do.


Hope this helps.



Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:


  • Podcast:  Insightful guests sharing tips and stories on how to thrive in the tech world.  Also on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts.
  • Technical Storytelling for Individuals: Accelerate your career, increase your impact and influence people.  World-Class course and coaching available for individuals.
  • Technical Storytelling for Organisations: Programs designed to increase the impact of your team.  Inspire, develop and motivate your team to influence key stakeholders and generate action.