Feedback can be easy

Providing feedback is one of the essential functions of a manager. Put it simply, if you care about your team, you must provide guidance and direction.

Yet, we often struggle to provide feedback that is useful, actionable, and timely.

I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be hard.

You no longer have to struggle with inner battles of consciousness just to tell someone they are doing a good job… or bad… and you can provide feedback in a way that is humane, consistent, and timely so that there are no surprises later on during the dreaded review time.

Prefer positive feedback

When you think about it, it is a lot simpler to tell someone they are doing a good job than it is to tell them they need to change their behavior.

Not only is it easier, but the positive feedback is also received better than anything negative you could say about their behavior.

Yet, we often find ourselves providing feedback only when we think something needs to change instead of reinforcing the behaviors that we would like to see.

Think about you as an individual, if you get praised for showing up on time to a meeting, you will likely continue to show up on time.

Being on time might seem like a given and part of the job, but now imagine that you have been on time to every meeting through the year, and today you ran late due to unforeseen circumstances. Your boss tells you that being late slows everyone else down, and asks you to not do it again.

The effect of the feedback is probably very similar, you will avoid being late in the future, but the feelings surrounding the reason you are avoiding being late are much different.

When you received positive feedback you probably felt proud of your good attendance record and of being a team player by not slowing down your team.

When you received negative feedback you probably felt defensive, maybe you imagined that your perfect attendance to date was ignored and that at the first slip up you were being punished.

This is not to say that negative feedback should be avoided, but to acknowledge that positive feedback is effective, well-received, and a lot more humane.

Timeliness is essential

Have you ever been negatively surprised by your yearly review results? I have…

Did you feel like it was a fair assessment? No way…

Did you immediately ask yourself why didn’t I know any of this until now? I did…

Did you even remember half the items mentioned in there from 6 months ago? nope…

Getting untimely feedback doesn’t do much good to anyone. The longer the time frame from action to feedback, the more likely we are to forget or let our memories change based on our individual views of the situation.

Receiving late feedback then becomes something that we will likely dismiss, or fight against to defend our memory of the situation.

Take the feedback on being late to a meeting, and now imagine that your boss told you about it the day after, or maybe a week later, or possibly during your review time. The longer it takes to receive feedback, the less effective it becomes.

Use the feedback template

We have not talked about how to provide feedback, and this is probably the most difficult part for a lot of us.

It turns out there is a simple and effective formula to use whenever we are giving feedback.

It goes like this

When you do this [visible action]…

This happens [effect]…

Keep doing or try this next time…[reinforce or adjust behavior]


The first sentence should be about the visible action you will be providing feedback on.

You must provide feedback only on things that can be proven true.

Think of it as something that you could notice if there was a video of it and you reviewed it a year later.

As an example, say “When you raise your voice…” instead of “When you are angry…“.

Raising your voice is something we can notice, being angry is a feeling that we could not be certain they had at the moment.


The second sentence goes into the effect the action has on your goals as a team

A good example is “When you raise your voice, it is difficult for us to understand your message..”

Be specific of how the action is affecting you or your team. Keep this in terms of value added or removed from an objective you are trying to accomplish.

Say “When you raise your voice, it is difficult for us to understand your message…” – This makes it explicit how the action is affecting the outcome we are trying to achieve.

Don’t say “When you raise your voice, you sound like a mad person…” – this is just an opinion and doesn’t help bring an understanding on how the action is affecting the team.


The last part is about adjusting or reinforcing behaviors. You want to reinforce during positive feedback and to adjust during negative feedback.

Following up with the example above, negative feedback looks like this

“When you raise your voice, it is difficult for us to understand your message, please lower your voice” – notice that we are being respectful and we are asking for a behavior change.

On the positive reinforcement side, here is a good example

“Thanks for being on time to the meeting, this allows us to get started right away and make the best use of our time, keep up your excellent on time record” – this example shows the action we would like to continue seeing, acknowledges how it helps with our goals, and reinforces the behavior we would like to see.

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