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Three Ways to Make Others Feel Good When Giving Feedback

If you’re a leader looking for the best ways to give constructive feedback, you’re in good company...

30 August, 2022
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If you’re a leader looking for the best ways to give constructive feedback, you’re in good company. One thing we want to be sure of is that our feedback feels fair, supportive and objective.   

Feedback needs to feel safe for the person receiving it.  If we judge, analyse, or get personal, they will shut down or get emotional or defensive. We want them to be open to what we say and engage in ways to improve the situation. To achieve that, we need to focus on the behaviour, our observations and solving the problem together.

  1. Describe behaviour, don’t judge it

When we describe a behaviour, we’re just saying what we saw someone do or heard them say.  It’s objective, and it’s the facts. For example, “You raised your voice in that meeting” simply states what happened.

When we make a judgement, we think of what’s happened in terms of ‘right or wrong, or ‘good or bad. For example, “It was bad of you to raise your voice”.   When someone feels judged, they’re going to get defensive, take it as a personal insult and respond to that instead of the feedback message “I’m not bad, how dare you!”. 

It’s hard to dispute the facts, so stick with them.

  1. Make observations, don’t analyse them

Observations are about behaviours, but analysis is about assuming someone’s motivations or reasons behind the behaviour.  It’s the difference between sharing an observation like "You tossed that form across the counter" and imposing an interpretation on the behaviour like, " I suppose you didn’t really care much for that family when you tossed that form."

Brene Brown talks about having an assumption of positive intent whenever you need to give feedback.  This means that you at least go into the conversation with the attitude of believing that whatever the person was doing, they were trying to do their best, and they just got it wrong.

There are a million reasons why people do what they do, and we can’t assume we know.  It’s better to ask “I was wondering what was going on for you there?” and let them offer their own reasons.

  1. Tackle the Impact, not the Person

Finally, we want to focus on the impact of the behaviour on others, rather than labelling the person or making a statement about what or who we imagine they are. Never criticise. 

For example, it’s better to say: "You talked over other team members in the staff meeting, which prevented them from finishing what they wanted to say," Use verbs that describe actions, like ‘talked’, ‘prevented’ and ‘finishing’ rather than saying something like "You are a real chatterbox." which uses adjectives to describe qualities.

Once you’ve established the thing that happened and the impact on others, you’ve then got to be clear about what you prefer them to have done or said instead. Stay tuned.

Written by Kylie Bell

Kylie Bell, Wren Learning

Kylie Bell leads a team of highly qualified and experienced researchers, program designers and educators at Wren Learning. Before creating Wren Learning, Kylie held senior leadership roles, leading people across diverse backgrounds, countries and cultures in high-pressure, creative environments.  These experiences inform her work in developing leaders today. Kylie is the presenter at the annual breakfasts commencing in September around Australia.


The views expressed in this content are those of the author, who is also responsible for any errors and omissions. Family Business Australia and New Zealand provides this article for your information only. The content of the article should not be taken as advice. If you wish to explore this topic, please consult an advisor who you consider to have the expertise to provide specific advice in relation to your family business.