DEV Community

Cover image for How to give effective feedback
Naz Delam
Naz Delam

Posted on

How to give effective feedback

I always think feedback looks like a double-edged sword, on one side, effective feedback can result in both personal and technical growth, increase performance, and eventually increase self-confidence. On the other side, It can exactly be the opposite, it brings frustration, lower motivation and paralyzes self-confidence which results in self-doubt. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to the construction of feedback, especially at work.

Although as we giving the feedback we have good intentions and want improvements in the other party, you can totally demolish the other person's motivation and dreams. Let's review some tips on constructing the best possible feedback ever.

👩‍🎓 Avoid negative feedback for learning

According to a Harvard Business Review Research on feedback, negative feedback can actually hinder learning. People often know their shortcomings and to be fair, every person has weaknesses and strengths. Try to focus on personal strengths and build on feedback to extend those strengths into something effective.

😧 Avoid harsh feedback

Effective feedback needs to be delivered with respect and care. Frequent or exclusively negative comments can spark defensive reactions that cloud perceptions and dampen motivation.

📝 Avoid providing solutions to problems

Telling someone how to fix a problem is often the wrong approach. You'll foster more learning by asking questions that stimulate reflection and coaching people into exploration and experimentation.

👂 Listen first, feedback second

In your feedback sessions, try to be a listener mostly, don't be judgemental and don't be in charge. According to HBR research, listening seems to make the other people more relaxed, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner. This can make people more likely to cooperate (versus compete) with other colleagues, as they become more interested in sharing their attitudes, but not necessarily in trying to persuade others to adopt them, and more open to considering other points of view.
Going back to giving feedback, of course, this research does not claim that listening must replace feedback. Rather, it seems that listening to other people talk about their own experiences first can make giving feedback more productive by helping them feel psychologically safe and less defensive.

🖌 Personalize your feedback

Provide individualized feedback, because no single approach is going to work well for everybody. Some people prefer to get feedback right away; others might want to wait until later. Some people respond better to feedback in the form of social comparison - your performance is better or worse than your neighbors'. Some people are more motivated by the feedback that compares them only against themselves - you did better or worse than you did last week. It is important to understand who you are giving feedback before giving feedback.

🗓 Focus on Patterns

Don't just feedback on a single event, how someone's communicated in one meeting or responded to one email. What is more helpful is feedback on patterns of behavior that leverage specific events as examples. Looking at patterns helps alleviate recency bias where we tend to recall and over-weight events in our near-term memory.

👆 Prioritize

People can only focus on and work on a few concepts at a time to be more concise, the sweet spot is 3 to 4 items. If you have 10 different feedbacks to give to your colleague or employee, try to prioritize the first three and be gradual on delivering those.


Creating feedback that is truly useful requires more care and attention than is typically invested. Like any skill - chess, golf, learning a new language - offering strategic developmental feedback requires that we pay attention to and do many things effectively and simultaneously. Given the opportunity to help others develop and become more effective, it's worth the effort.

Hope this was useful, please share your tips in comments and don't forget to 👏 if you like the content.

Discussion (8)

Collapse
savagepixie profile image
SavagePixie

I really like all your points. So don't mind if I pick your brains a bit more.

Your first point is to avoid negative for learning. I will be the first one to agree that an excessive focus on negative feedback isn't good. But do we need to avoid it altogether or is there a place for negatove feedback in the context of learning? If not, how do we help people become aware of shortcomings or things they did wrong when they don't know?

Collapse
nazanindelam profile image
Naz Delam Author • Edited on

The first point is driven by a Harvard Business Review study on feedback in this year's March revision. I recommend reading this article( hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy ) which has an explanation of the research and why negative feedback does hinder learning.

I think, it totally depends on the goal you have, as a feedback giver. As an example, if you see your friend not going to the gym 4 times a week, telling him/her "Not going to the gym will make you unhealthy and sick" not going to actually make him/her try the gym. Instead, you may want to try to see what your friend's strong points are, which can lead him/her to a healthier lifestyle. If she/he likes biking as an example, you can encourage her/him to bike around the bay in the mornings. In this way you can achieve the same goal in a different way.

The point here is, not everyone can learn everything, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Focusing to push someone on the weakness is not as effective as making that person excel and shine on his/her strengths,

Collapse
brsullivan profile image
Braelyn

I love the fitness advice comparison here. As someone who has struggled throughout my life to make better choices in my diet and exercise, I am painfully aware of how much this negative feedback hinders my efforts to improve -- but I never connected it to other areas of improvement.

Collapse
aschwin profile image
Aschwin Wesselius • Edited on

Thank you for this article!

This quote always hit home with me:

"Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise" - Dale Carnegie, "How to win friends and influence people"

We never can learn enough about giving feedback. It's a sensitive area, but also one of the most effective areas to bring people closer.

I always like to think about the feedback sandwich: compliment first, provide feedback, compliment again.

This way, you prepare the mind by uplifting it first with a compliment of your choice (there should be something right?). Next, deliver the feedback with a similar tone as the compliment, but keep it direct and not on the person, but on the behavior or the situation. Never on the person!

Then, compliment the other again. It could be related to the first compliment or to the feedback. This makes the feedback stick much better too!

Oh, and you HAVE to be sincere in both the feedback and the compliments. If this is not your thing, just leave both behind and don't do the feedback at all. It's hard, but better from the heart than being ice cold.

Collapse
sroehrl profile image
neoan

This makes a great print out as a daily observed reminder. Thank you! Also, is this culture observed at Netflix? It's a company I hear very little about, considering its impact is so enormous.

Collapse
nazanindelam profile image
Naz Delam Author

Hi @neoan. Thank you I am glad and please share if you have any feedback and tips.
Netflix definitely has a very feedback oriented culture, and I appreciate that a lot. During my career feedbacks helped me grow the most.

Collapse
pfacklam profile image
Paul Facklam

Great article! Really like it. 👍

Collapse
nazanindelam profile image
Naz Delam Author

thank you, Paul. :)