How to Give Feedback

Giving (and receiving) feedback is one of the most powerful tools leaders can harness to improve performance, workplace relationships, organisational culture and self-awareness.

The problem is, whether we are the ‘deliverer’ or on the receiving end, feedback can have a tendency to make us feel uncomfortable. Awkward. Even emotional. I remember as a young 20-something, being given some constructive feedback for the first time – and consequently bursting into tears. You can add humiliating to that list!

The reality is, too many valuable conversations are NOT occurring due to a fear of giving or receiving feedback. Ask yourself – what are my own experiences of giving and receiving feedback in the past? How is this colouring my approach to feedback now?

Fortunately, there are many simple tools leaders can use to give feedback successfully, leaving both parties feeling empowered, more aware and able to move forward positively in the relationship.

Here are my top 10 leadership tips for delivering developmental feedback:

1. Start with positive intent. Good feedback starts with caring concern, respect, and support. It does not come from a place of criticism or built up frustration. Assume the other person has positive intentions and wants to do what is in the best interests of the company.

2. Address the specific behaviour or issue at hand. Leave personal judgement, generalisations or personal attacks out of it.

3. Be clear, concise and direct. One of the biggest traps is ‘dancing around the mulberry bush’ or ‘soft-soaping’ our message.

4. Choose the right time. And place. Somewhere private, not rushed.

5. Take into account the receiver’s needs and feelings – as well as your own. You can do this by asking for their response and listening to their perspective.

6. Make sure the person has received and understands the intended message. Asking them to tell you what they think they have heard is one way of doing this.

7. Don’t necessarily judge the effectiveness of your feedback by the initial response you receive. Especially when developmental feedback is a blind spot for the other person, emotions such as defensiveness, anger or upset can feature (just like my twenty something year old self above!). If this is the case, stay in relationship and follow-up to see how they are after a cool down period.

8. Balance constructive with positive feedback where possible. A culture of feedback is one in which you see lots and lots of positive (as well as developmental) feedback occurring.

9. Don’t save up your feedback, only to ‘dump’ it in one over-sized load. The best time to give developmental feedback is as soon after the event has taken place, as is practical and appropriate.

10. Practice, practice, practice. Like most things, you get better at it the more you do it. If it frightens you, start with easier topics or with someone whom you are more comfortable with.

Adopting these approaches can help to ease the discomfort when giving feedback.

Remember feedback is merely a conversation – a potentially powerful one.  As leaders, mastering the art of giving and receiving feedback is an integral part of our job to coach, facilitate, support and guide the growth and success of our teams.

It reminds me of this Chinese proverb – “A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.”


  1. 8 Tips For Managing Non-Performance | Suzi McAlpine on September 9, 2014 at 3:05 am

    […] Get comfortable and skilled at giving and receiving regular feedback. Make feedback or feed forward in your team like the tide which ebbs and flows daily. Shine a light on what you […]

  2. […] you need to learn how, click here to read my top tips on giving […]

  3. […] he’s butt naked.  You can do it effectively and challenge constructively.  See here for […]

  4. […] what different perspectives could this offer?  If it’s tough feedback you have to give, see here for tips on how to give […]

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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