The Do's and Don'ts of Giving Effective Feedback

In our day to day lives, the ability to give feedback is everywhere. Eat at a restaurant that was way too loud? There’s Yelp for that. Did your Lyft driver drive too fast in the rain? They now have a one-star review.

While this type of feedback is easy and doesn’t require much thought, what about in the workplace? Some of us probably wish there was a star rating for the coworker that keeps interrupting you during a presentation, but giving effective feedback in a professional setting is much more nuanced.

When used correctly, feedback can be incredibly effective in driving performance. It promotes employee engagement and inclusivity by ensuring that everyone in the company has a voice. It also costs the company almost nothing to do. It’s no wonder that most companies claim to promote a culture of feedback, but if done incorrectly, feedback can have lasting damaging results on your company’s performance and culture.

Here are some do's and don’ts of giving effective feedback:

Do: Assume positive intent:

You don’t know what you don’t know — when giving feedback, it’s important to leave any negative assumptions at the door. Assuming positive intent gives the receiver the benefit of the doubt and will encourage a more open and productive conversation. If the receiver feels like they are being unfairly judged, they might become defensive and won’t truly hear your feedback.

Don’t: Wait

Feedback is best given soon after the event occurred. Waiting could make it less impactful. Waiting a week to give someone feedback about how they came to a sales pitch unprepared will be more effective directly after the meeting.

Don’t: Blindside someone with your feedback

Always start by asking if now is a good time for some feedback. It is hard to listen to feedback when the receiver is distracted because they are late to their next meeting or is having a terrible day. Ask for consent.

Do: Be specific about describing the situation

This one is simple: When giving feedback, reference the exact situation you’re talking about. What meeting was it where your coworker had that side conversation that distracted you? Which email was it where the language came off as harsh? Being specific will alleviate doubt that your feedback is about anything else, or worse, run the risk of it being taken personally.

Don’t: Assume behavior or intent

Next, you’ll want to describe the behavior you witnessed. This needs to be devoid of any assumptions or emotions. Describe the behavior like you are a camera in the room. What did you see and what did you hear? Being "matter of fact" is important to allow the receiver to react and engage in the conversation in a productive manner. You could say, “During the sales pitch I noticed you rifling through your paperwork looking for answers to the prospect’s questions”

Do: Describe the impact on you, your peers, or the company

What was the resulting impact of this behavior? Remember to be specific. You could say “And when you were rifling through your paperwork, it came off as you being unprepared to the meeting”

Don’t: Assume you’re right

Feedback is to be delivered and received with a growth mindset. Approach the conversation with positive intent to create a two-way conversation and listen to what the receiver has to say. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know and there might be something going on behind the scenes you are not aware of that would justify the receiver’s actions.

At Salesforce, we use the SBI (Situation, Behavior, Impact) model for giving feedback. The meaning of this can be derived from what you read above. Remember, feedback takes practice to get right and will feel uncomfortable at first. When done correctly you will see the positive results you are looking to achieve.


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