Apply 4 Tips and Avoid 4 Traps for Giving Effective Feedback

Last week my colleague Joe Baker and I conducted leadership development training for a client. The audience was front-line leaders from sites all over the country. Part of the content we covered in the training included Giving Effective Feedback. The goal was for participants to walk away prepared to hold meaningful, and sometimes difficult, conversations with their direct reports.

Giving feedback is often not easy to do as a leader, but it is essential. Some people need more of it than others, but everyone requires some amount of feedback. In executive summary fashion, here are the top four tips and top four traps related to delivering effective feedback.

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  • Give feedback on a timely basis. Providing feedback weeks or months after the fact is not helpful. And providing it very late actually creates more problems for you as the supervisor or manager when performance review time rolls around.
  • Provide both positive AND negative feedback. One or the other alone will not help people grow and develop. It’s important to catch people doing something RIGHT! Don’t focus solely on what they have done wrong, or where they need constructive criticism.
  • Choose the setting wisely. When possible, consider delivering positive feedback in a public setting. Ensure you deliver constructive criticism in a private setting. This is not always realistic in order to ensure timeliness, but make a conscious choice.
  • Use a clear opening statement. The best and easiest one to use is “I need to give you some feedback.” It is not a question, such as “Can I give you some feedback?” It is a statement. It gives the person a moment’s notice that feedback is coming, so they can mentally and emotionally prepare for it.


  • Backing out of your feedback. This sounds like, “I didn’t really mean that.” Or “My manager said that, but I’m not sure I agree.” This discounts your message to the receiver.
  • Pulling in your own experiences. Which goes something like this: “That happened to me. Let me tell you …” This takes the focus off of the receiver and puts it back on you. This is not helpful to conveying your message.
  • Watering it down. This sounds like, “It wasn’t THAT bad” or “It was really busy at the time.” This is almost excusing what happened due to an external circumstance, when realistically, the feedback is the feedback and needs to stand alone.
  • Using unclear or insensitive words. This takes many shapes. Examples could include, “You acted like a jerk” or “You are lazy.” Better alternatives include using verbs to describe the person’s actions, and providing details about the setting in which the situation occurred. Who was there? When did it happen? What did the person say? What impact did it have on others involved? Specifics become actionable to change behavior.

Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.