How to be awesome at giving feedback

A 5 step guide for giving positive feedback and making connection

Giving feedback
unsplash-logoMimi Thian

You want or need to give feedback. Whether it is giving feedback in your role as a manager to one of your employees, as a peer of one of your colleagues or upward feedback to one of your managers. And you also need that the person who receives your feedback understands what you are saying and preferably takes action.

So how can you achieve this? And how to prevent such a conversation from spiraling down to a shouting match in which we end up in complete “character assassination”?

(With character assassination I mean attacking someone’s personality / character, which naturally is a recipe for disaster).

What is feedback?

I tried Googling for a definition of feedback. Unfortunately, the results page did not show me definitions which are fully satisfying for this topic on providing interpersonal feedback. Rather, it provided me with a general notion of feedback, which can be applied to all processes – not just interpersonal feedback. But it is a good starting point. The definition of feedback is: “the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source”.

A more descriptive definition of giving constructive feedback is: communicating objectively about the behavior or performance of others, in order to come to an agreement of the corrective action to take.

This definition of feedback contains a number of important elements, which are all vital if you want to create the right level of rapport with someone. So how to properly apply those elements? I will explain this in the 5 step guide below.

Applying  the 5 steps of giving feedback

Step 1:  Describe what you observe

Start with describing the situation you want to provide feedback on in an objective way. This is harder than you think. I received several formal trainings on providing feedback, one of which recently. In this training we were asked to imagine a conversation we wanted to have in short notice/ I started this step with something like: “When you ask me for the documentation you require, you don’t accept my work and you do not accept my judgement and it takes me a lot of time”. Well, this is clearly wrong and even the person in front of me who was also attending the training and participating in this exercise was kind of “offended”.

So, wrong start and I had to start over. Be aware that this step is harder than you think, especially if the situation has some emotional load to it. In stead of going in “blaming mode”, a better approach would be the following: “I’ve noticed that delivering the documentation in the form you need is taking more time than we originally planned.” Fact. There’s no way the receiver of the feedback could have disagreed with that. Therefore I aced the second round of training my feedback skills. Now to the next step.

Step 2:  Explain what the effect on you is

Explain what the behavior or actions of your colleague have on you. In the example I started above, it would be something like: “Because delivering the documentation is taking more time than anticipated, I cannot finish my other work and this makes me stressed and frustrated.” In this step it is very important to only describe what the situation does to you. By doing this, you keep the conversation objective and also here, the receiver of the feedback can’t really disagree with you.

Step 3: Ask the receiver of the feedback if she/he recognizes this

When you ask your colleague if she/he recognizes the situation, you also explore the same situation from a different vantage point. It is very important to listen clearly to what the other person has to say, so you also understand. If the other person does not feel understood, it will be much harder to reach an agreement what corrective action to take.

Step 4: Make a suggestion for improvement

Make a suggestion on an action, different way of working or different way of communicating. In my example, this would be something like: “Would it be a good idea to first come to a clear agreement of your requirements for the documentation you need, so I am able to deliver this?”.

Step 5: Agree on the action

Ask if the receiver of the feedback agrees with your suggestion. Because if that person agrees, I can in this case finish the (tedious) work on gathering the documentation and I will probably save some time. This was my intention. If I communicate the way above, it is likely I will get this process moving in the right direction both for myself and the other person.

Positive and constructive mindset

In providing the feedback it is very important to stay objective in each step. When you give feedback this way, the other person will not easily feel offended. These steps also force you into a mindset of considerately choosing your words. Always with the other person in mind and the best solution in the given situation. Also, more egocentrically: you are more likely to get what you want.

Be aware that you do pick the right moment to provide feedback. When you’re in a busy week and stressed out and you run in a certain situation, it’s best to count to ten and park the discussion with that person till you both have more time. This is essential, as otherwise you will not go through all the required steps in a considerate way and the other person will not be receptive to what you have to say.

Diffusion emotions and increasing productivity

When you need to provide feedback to someone, it is likely that a certain situation will also carry some emotional load for you. By providing the feedback and discussing this with the person in question in the right way, you will release that emotion at a minimum and you are also likely to create positive action.

You will also create a connection with the other person (be it a colleague or your manager) which in turn increase the trust in your (working) relationship. And this will then increase your effectiveness as a person and the productivity of your department.

So how will you apply this approach to giving feedback?

In short, the 5 steps to give positive feedback are:

  • Step 1:  Describe what you observe
  • Step 2:  Explain what the effect on you is
  • Step 3: Ask the receiver of the feedback if she/he recognizes this
  • Step 4: Make a suggestion for improvement
  • Step 5: Agree on the action

Make sure to practice these steps and evaluate what could have gone better and what went right in the conversations you have. Remember: this is a skill which needs to be developed, so repetition is vital. The question for you is now: when will you apply these steps to provide better feedback? Do you have situations when you can apply this?

I’m curious about your findings. Let me know by posting a comment on this blog.

Thank you for reading this blogpost and I hope to see you back again next week! If you haven’t yet, make sure to subscribe to the newsletter of this blog.


  1. Great tips! As the HR of my company I often have to coach managers on how to give feedback at work and these tips all come in handy. Another thing I would add is have the other person come up with a suggestion on how to improve so you get better buy-in to the solution. You present the situation and uour observations and ask them what they think is a potential resolution and brainstorm together. Employees tend to feel more engaged in the conversation and they don’t feel like you’re talking down to them. Nice blog by the way and keep going!

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