Principles of effective feedback

Here is the 4th and final post on How to Give Contructive Feedback, summarising the key principles.

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Timing and planning

  • Feed back as soon after the event as you can, but ensuring privacy if appropriate (praise in public, reprimand in private).
  • When giving feedback based on a longer period e.g. in an appraisal situation, the more recent the example, the more impact it will have.
  • Ensure the timing is appropriate for the individual to take on it board (e.g. avoid times when they are under tight time pressures, or about to start something for which they need total focus).
  • What condition are you in to give feedback right now – do any of the above apply to you, or are you angry about the way they have handled something and need time to cool off.
  • Consider your motives before giving feedback i.e. what do you want the end result to be?
  • Be prepared for their reaction, and how you will respond.


  • These should be communicated in advance and only referred to as a reminder if necessary.
  • If you are not certain the person is aware of the standard, check their understanding of the expected standard before diving in with your feedback. This might highlight a need for clarification, reinforcement or training.
  • If people are unaware of the standard, draw a line in the sand, but establish this as the standard moving forward.


  • Ask questions at each stage rather than telling.  Most people will be able to identify for themselves how things have gone, especially if they know the standards in advance.
  • Give feedback on successes as well as where things can be improved.
  • Be prepared to build the confidence of the shrinking violet, who finds it hard to accept any praise.  They may find it hard to see good in anything they do, and only see their mistakes or what went badly.  Ask ‘What were you pleased with, or what went well, or better than last time’?
  • Focus on behaviour, not personality.
  • How likely is it that the person can do anything about it?
  • Could you be the source of the problem, not them?
  • Take ownership – don’t rely on hearsay.  People will be far more receptive to what you have observed directly rather than subjective opinions from others.
  • If necessary draw comparisons between what people say and what they actually do.
  • Use pre determined standards or goals as a yardstick.


  • Reinforce how positive actions have helped performance.
  • Acknowledge people for what they are not just their accomplishments.
  • Explain or ask them which actions are less effective than they might be and why.
  • Link the outcomes to something they care about (e.g. the amount of effort required on their part, or how others perceive them), rather than simply what is important to you.
  • Check they understand the implications – if they don’t know how their actions affect the business or the task they are unlikely to take on board any changes needed.


  • When things have gone well you may not be looking for improvements from the individual, but how can their good performance be emulated e.g. can they show others how they do it?
  • Ask them to suggest a better, or alternative solution or methods.
  • Focus on what is missing, rather than what is wrong – this helps performance next time.
  • Ensure the outcome you want is clear.
  • Check their understanding of what to do in future – if they have come up with the solution check the method, time scales, etc.

Your approach

  • Be direct, don’t sugar coat the message.
  • Be sincere.
  • Give praise where it is due.
  • When it’s not, make it clear that you need to see improvements or changes.
  • Avoid being side tracked by any of the feedback blockers.
  • Preserve the other person’s self esteem.
  • Deliver bad news in a non-critical way.
  • Concentrate on your pitch and tone so that valuable information is not seen as a complaint, criticism, whinge or nag.

Given in a constructive way feedback can not only improve performance but can raise morale, build rapport and promote initiative.  It also opens the door for your team to provide you with some feedback too.

Caroline Cooper

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