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How to give feedback like a boss

Here are 10 tips for giving feedback in a way that works.

4 min read


How to give feedback like a boss

Jon Tyson/Unsplash/SmartBrief illustration

In our previous post, we talked about the importance of giving feedback and discussed how leaders can use the “EARN approach” to give effective feedback to team members. The benefits of this approach are that they offer clear, objective insight into what happened, the result of that behavior, and suggestions for how to remedy things moving forward.

Of course, there is so much more to feedback than the technical skills of what to say. So much of effective communication lies in how we say it, the soft, human side of the process.

Following are some other tips to help you deliver more effective feedback to your coworkers.

  1. Be positive. If your intention is genuine and you can convey this to the employee, there’s a good chance your feedback will be effective.
  2. Be immediate. Give the feedback while the individual can act on it. Waiting until the end of the week or, worse, the annual performance review doesn’t help the person make mid-course corrections.
  3. Be honest. Say what needs to be said rather than dance around the issue. Avoid the “sandwich technique,” which aims to couch criticism in praise.
  4. Be specific. To reiterate, identify the specifics of what went wrong or could be improved and discuss your expectations for how his/her behavior should change.
  5. Be suggestive.Where possible, stay in suggestive mode by using words like “maybe” and “you could” instead of demanding terms such as “you must,” “from now on, always …” etc. If you are giving positive feedback, simply saying “good job” is not enough. Be specific about the behaviors you observed.
  6. Be empathic. Maybe the employee is running into obstacles, or maybe the employee doesn’t have the right tools or systems to do the work. Once you understand the reasons behind the performance issue, you can work to minimize or remove the obstacles. This approach will go a long way towards building the relationship and building a culture of feedback.
  7. Be growth-oriented. The primary purpose of feedback should not be assessment. Rather, it should be on coaching employees to grow and set new goals. Once goals are set, use them as a baseline for future conversations with a focus on how the employee is progressing towards his/her goals. If insufficient progress is being made, use the conversation to figure out why and what can be done to help get things on track.
  8. Be reasonable. Even if there are many correctable items that you’d like to discuss, avoid overloading. Too much information will only dilute the conversation and reduce its effectiveness. Choose the two or three most important elements that require attention and leave all others alone. Less is more.
  9. Be objective. Put personal feelings aside and seek to describe the behavior, not the personality. When you see a behavior or series of behaviors that you don’t like, focus your comments there rather than on the actor’s character. For example, conversation with someone who is habitually late should focus on the person’s tardiness (“I’ve noticed that arrived late to the office six times over the past two weeks,”) rather than be used as a referendum on their character (“It seems that you struggle with time management.”) As we’ve previously discussed, adding a piece about the result (“When you are late, the rest of us need to pick up the slack while also attending to your own duties”) can help clarify the problem and motivate change.
  10. Offer the tool as well as the observation. When you see a problem or have identified a way to improve performance, be sure to suggest a tool or useful strategy as well. People most appreciate feedback that helps them solve problems and improve. Offering a tool says that you truly care and want to empower them to do their very best.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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