I love getting feedback and I love giving it when I have something to share. Oftentimes, though, when I ask for feedback, I hear mostly “oh, you’re great” or, if I’m asking about something I made, “It’s ok/good/great/interesting”. That’s where my anxious brain goes “oh, come onnnn” and stop believing anything a person has said.
The reason why my brain doesn’t trust this kind of feedback is because it’s very generic. If something is “great”, what makes it so?
Feedback is there for people to understand what things are working well and should be continued, and what things are holding us back and need to change. Hence, when someone asks you, they’re likely not just looking for you to clear their doubts, they also want to learn how to improve. I’d like to share how to give feedback effectively, so the receiver of the feedback would understand exactly what you mean.
First of all, the feedback should be timely. If you’d like to give someone a thumbs up for a thing they did at a meeting that ended 5 minutes ago, don’t wait until a week later to tell them they did a good job — a person likely won’t remember what they did by that time. Same for constructive feedback: it’s best not to delay a conversation, so the behavior that brought you to it could be addressed sooner.
Note: if you are influenced by strong emotions, it might not be the best time to talk. Give yourself (and the feedback receiver, if they’re also emotional) some time to calm down, and talk when you both are feeling better.
Secondly, feedback should be specific. The general idea, as I mentioned before, is to give actionable feedback, and what way is there to make it actionable than talk about a specific situation? The general pattern for the feedback I really like to use is SBI(A): Situation, Behavior, Impact, and (optional) Action.
So instead of just saying: “Hey, good job at that meeting!” to a colleague that just improved a relationship with a client,
you could say: “Hey, when the client started asking questions about the budget (Situation) and you stepped in and explained all the numbers to them (Behavior), it seemed to make a client much more comfortable working with us (Impact). Great job!”
This example doesn’t include any direct Action items, but after what you said, a person is likely to be ready to step into conversation with clients again, as this action brought a positive result in the past.
When we need to give some constructive feedback, things usually get more awkward as most people don’t enjoy being in uncomfortable situations. How do you give feedback without offending a person and ruining your relationship? How do you make the conversation less awkward?
Honestly, I think it’s important to understand that the feedback is not there to make another person uncomfortable, it’s there to help them get better, and you both probably want that. With that in mind, I think it’s best to be as honest as possible when you’re about to give constructive feedback. Don’t sugarcoat things, don’t use “the sandwich” method as it’s only going to confuse the person (“So am I good or bad? What should I do?”). Instead, what you could do is just state your intentions ahead of time: “I have some feedback I’d like to give you. I believe there’s a thing that’s holding you back and I wanted to tell you about it so you could
Here, you can also use an SBI(A) structure.
Instead of: “I think you suck at emails”
Say: “When you sent an email to our partner asking for assistance (Situation), you’ve put a lot of technical details about what needs to be done, but not much context about why you need this or any high-level overview (Behavior). Our partner is not very technical, so he couldn’t understand what you were asking and reached out to me asking what that request was about (Impact). Next time you send him a request, could you give him more context about the task so he could understand it and pass it to the right people on his side? (Action)”
By using the SBI(A) structure, you get the following benefits:
I love receiving feedback in this format as it helps me understand the results of my past actions, and I get a clear path forward to improving. Try this feedback model in both your personal and work conversations and see how it works out for you: from my experience, it's more effective than generic feedback.
Hope this helps!