As a leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to help those around you get better. The success of your team depends on everyone getting better. And one of the key ways you can do that is by providing feedback in a way that helps people want to grow and get better.

Whatever the circumstances, here are nine principles that can help you make the process of giving feedback valuable and effective:

  • It’s complicated. Be aware and attentive to the inherent, complex factors involved with any relationship and communication. There is no “one size fits all” solution. Tailor your approach to the circumstances and person in front of you.

  • Communicate for connection. Trust and credibility are key. Intentional interpersonal communication increases the chance feedback will be received positively.

  • Timing matters. Provide feedback on a short-term loop, as close to the circumstances you’re talking about as possible. Gaps in time may diminish how willing a person is to listen to, believe, or respond to feedback. Your memory may be distorted the longer you wait, too.

  • Consider environmental factors. Be aware that many other factors impact how feedback is received or acted upon. Time of day, frequency of feedback, time of the week, current workload, hunger or fatigue levels, etc. can all impact the recipient. There may not be a perfect time for feedback, but there are circumstances that can make things worse than they need to be.

  • Direct feedback on the behavior, not the person. Causing someone to react defensively doesn’t help anyone want to change or grow. “When you raise your voice, it’s hard for me to feel safe” is better than “You’re just an angry person, so I avoid you.”

  • Connect feedback to future-oriented goals. It’s the beginning of the process, not the end. Always connect feedback to goal-setting, strategies, and practice. And make sure new goals and changes are within the person’s control.

  • Strive to be clear and specific. General feedback doesn’t lead to a specific action. “I need your help completing the TPS reports by 3 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays” is better than “I need you to pick up the slack and get more work done around here.” Clear, specific feedback also makes it easier to set clear, specific goals.

  • Feedback alone isn’t enough. Take it back to reality and process the “data” in the context of real life. Connect the feedback to actionable steps for growth and success in light of what it will look like in the very real future. Growth and change won’t come from feedback alone.

  • Reality is always your friend. Negative or unexpected feedback can be hard to hear, but it is an opportunity to gain awareness, learn, and grow. How others perceive you or how your behavior impacts others matters, even if it doesn’t feel good to realize. Addressing reality is an important first step in learning and growth.

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