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How to give feedback people actually want

Nulab Staff

Nulab Staff

September 29, 2023

It’s no secret that most people want useful feedback on their job performance. But we’re just starting to realize how much feedback employees really want. The quarterly performance review is no longer enough for employees seeking constant improvement. They want weekly and even daily feedback from engaged managers. Unfortunately, the feedback they do receive isn’t always useful.

So, how do you provide feedback that people not only want but can actually use? The answers are simple, but they do require thoughtfulness.

How to give feedback

Next time you find yourself in a position to provide feedback, follow these rules.

Think big picture

Rather than providing feedback that centers on a single task or project, try to identify more general behavior trends. What behaviors are effective and should be continued? What behaviors are harmful and need to be altered?

If you get stuck trying to identify which behaviors to focus on, consider the company’s needs, goals, and culture. Does the company need someone who can step up and take more of a leadership role in their team? Or does their culture work better with team players that can get everyone to work together?

What is appropriate for one role, team, or company may not be appropriate for another. Everyone has to adapt to be successful, and receiving feedback that allows you to support the company where it needs it most is some of the most useful feedback you can provide.

Be specific

Instead of saying someone is doing “great” at their job, point to specific examples of the great things they’re doing. For example, if a designer takes the time to reach out to dev and marketing for feedback whenever they’re introducing a new feature idea, acknowledging their collaborative working style will ensure they continue to find opportunities to bring different perspectives together. Likewise, rather than saying someone lacks leadership skills, point out opportunities where they could exercise decisiveness and provide direction for their team.

Being specific not only helps people turn feedback into action but it also helps avoid misinterpretation. When people try to comment on someone’s disposition or emotional state — rather than on specific actions — it often leads to defensiveness. And a defensive person isn’t going to find any feedback useful.

Don’t focus on just the good or the bad

Some people like to please. Others tend to stay quiet until there’s a problem. Unfortunately, providing solely positive or negative feedback to those around you isn’t helpful.

If you find providing negative feedback difficult, you may have to work on improving this skill. If you often forget to praise the good things your team regularly does, you will need to make an effort to speak up, demonstrate gratitude, and communicate positively.

Feedback should be holistic. While you don’t have to include both positive and negative aspects with every comment you provide, you should aim to strike a balance overall.

Acknowledge improvement

If you do provide feedback and see a positive change, don’t forget to praise your team for their efforts. A little boost of acknowledgment or gratitude can motivate employees to make further positive changes, improve morale, and increase job satisfaction.

If you wait too long to praise someone, the satisfaction your acknowledgment provides diminishes. In fact, you’ve likely built up resentment if the person put a lot of time and effort into utilizing your feedback in the first place.

Use empathy

With any feedback, there is always a chance someone can’t or won’t use it to their advantage. If you try applying these tips and still feel like your feedback isn’t being used or, vice versa, that you can’t seem to use the feedback provided to you, try your best to understand where the other person is coming from. Practice actively listening, see if you can understand the other person’s perceptual language style, and do your best to keep improving your feedback. You may even want to ask your team for feedback on your feedback!

Helpful feedback vs. unhelpful feedback

Differentiating between helpful and unhelpful feedback will sharpen your feedback skills, ensuring that your insights are not only desired but also actionable.

Helpful feedback:

  • Is specific and actionable.
  • Focuses on both strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Aligns with organizational goals and culture.
  • Encourages professional growth.
  • Acknowledges and appreciates positive changes.

Unhelpful feedback:

  • Is vague or generalized.
  • Overemphasizes either positivity or negativity.
  • Lacks alignment with organizational objectives.
  • Fosters defensiveness and misinterpretation.
  • Fails to motivate or guide improvement.

In essence, the difference between helpful and unhelpful feedback lies in its transformative power. Helpful feedback guides individuals and teams toward growth, enabling them to refine their actions and reach new heights. On the other hand, unhelpful feedback, often vague or overly critical, can hinder progress, leaving individuals feeling disheartened and directionless.

As we navigate the realm of feedback, remember that the goal is not merely to communicate but to catalyze positive change.

Giving feedback in the workplace

How you approach feedback will also vary depending on the workplace scenario you find yourself in. From employees to peers and bosses, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration will require giving and receiving feedback in these areas.

How to give feedback to your employees

When giving feedback to employees, the focus often revolves around job performance, skill development, and career growth, as you aim to support their professional development within the organization.

Giving feedback to employees requires a tailored approach. Consider the following steps:

  1. Set clear expectations: Clearly define performance expectations and goals.
  2. Choose the right time: Find an appropriate moment for feedback, preferably in a private and comfortable setting.
  3. Be constructive: Emphasize strengths, provide specific examples, and offer actionable suggestions for improvement.
  4. Listen actively: Allow employees to express their thoughts and concerns.
  5. Encourage open dialogue: Foster a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their feedback with you.

How to give feedback to your boss

Providing feedback to your boss can be distinct from giving feedback to employees or peers due to the hierarchical nature of the supervisor-subordinate relationship. When giving feedback to your boss, it’s essential to consider factors like their role in decision-making, organizational responsibilities, and leadership style. Feedback to a boss often focuses on their management approach, communication effectiveness, and alignment with company objectives. While honesty and professionalism are vital in all feedback situations, delivering feedback to a superior may require a more diplomatic and constructive approach, emphasizing collaboration and mutual success. Balancing respect for authority with the intention to contribute positively to the work environment is crucial when giving feedback to a boss.

Offering feedback to your boss can be delicate but beneficial. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose the right moment: Select a suitable time when your boss is receptive to feedback.
  2. Be respectful: Approach the conversation with respect and professionalism.
  3. Use “I” statements: Express your perspective using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.
  4. Be solution-oriented: Instead of dwelling on problems, offer potential solutions.
  5. Seek their input: Encourage your boss to share their thoughts and perspective.

How to give feedback to your peers

Providing feedback to your peers differs from offering feedback to employees or a boss primarily because of the horizontal, collaborative relationship among peers. When giving feedback to peers, the focus often revolves around mutual projects, teamwork, and interpersonal dynamics. Peer feedback is typically more informal and aims to enhance cooperation, resolve conflicts, and improve shared outcomes. Unlike feedback to employees, it usually lacks the element of managerial authority and performance evaluation. While honesty and constructive criticism are important, feedback to peers often emphasizes collaboration, empathy, and mutual growth, aiming to strengthen working relationships and collective achievements.

Providing feedback to peers requires tact and collaboration. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  1. Focus on behavior, not personality: Address specific actions or behaviors, avoiding judgments on their character.
  2. Be sensitive: Choose an appropriate setting and tone for your feedback.
  3. Offer constructive criticism: Suggest improvements or alternatives rather than merely pointing out flaws.
  4. Acknowledge their efforts: Recognize their contributions and strengths.
  5. Encourage reciprocity: Create an environment where feedback flows both ways.

The role of collaboration tools in feedback

Regular feedback is a cornerstone of effective collaboration. Team collaboration tools can streamline the feedback process, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Features such as task assignments, comments, and real-time updates enable teams to provide and receive feedback seamlessly. As you navigate the intricate landscape of feedback in the workplace, consider implementing collaborative solutions like Backlog and Cacoo to enhance communication and drive growth. By embracing these tools, you empower your team to work together towards shared success.

This post was originally published on April 19, 2018, and updated most recently on September 29, 2023.



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