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Delivering Effective Feedback

Giving feedback is a critical skill in the workplace and in any social interaction. The effectiveness of the feedback, however, depends on the way it is delivered. Too much criticism may discourage people; too much praise may not help them either. If the goal of giving feedback is to help people improve and help companies increase performance, is there a framework that we can follow to achieve the desired results?

A Harvard Business Review article by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall shows that people cannot reliably rate the performance of others when it comes to evaluating abstract qualities, such as business acumen or assertiveness. The reason is that more than 50% of your rating of someone reflects your characteristics, not theirs. Research also reveals that focusing people on their shortcomings does not enable learning; it impairs it. Neuroscience also demonstrates that criticism provokes the brain’s “fight-or-flight” response and inhibits learning. Buckingham and Goodall explore a more mindful way to deliver feedback to achieve the desired results.

Useful feedback is always honest and fair, and it helps people improve.  It includes having an awareness of how people receive criticism and remembering that people are different. Several considerations will have a positive effect on your feedback delivery. For example, start with the end in mind, asking yourself what concrete results you want to achieve and determining how much feedback to offer and how often. Some feedback techniques exist; each of them has its benefits and shortcomings and are appropriate for different situations.

The “sandwich” technique consists of praise followed by corrective feedback followed by more praise. In other words, corrective feedback “sandwiched” between two layers of positive feedback. It presents a balanced approach that sometimes is criticized for sugarcoating the facts. However, looking deeper into Buckingham and Goodall’s research, it may be the favorite option to encourage learning in people.

The SBI tool keeps feedback objective. It follows the sequence:

Situation: Describe what happened and when Behavior: Describe the action you observed without making assumptions Impact: Explain what you thought or felt in a reaction of the behavior and allow time for the person to respond

This approach sets the stage for an open discussion and focuses on events and outcomes.

How to provide feedback is one of the hottest topics in business today. The success of any team or organization depends on effective communication and timely, thoughtful feedback. People do not do well when they are told what to do and what they must fix in themselves, especially when the feedback is given with unclear intentions. People only excel when they receive suggestions for improvement from someone who knows them, cares and recognizes the things they already do well.


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