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How to Give Productive Feedback at Work

You’ve noticed an issue at work that could be better, or that a co-worker is struggling with something you excel at. How do you go about relaying that thought without offending everyone and making a situation worse? We all need feedback both positive and negative in order to improve, but delivering it in a productive way can be tricky. There is an art to voicing work feedback and we are here to help break it down for you.

What Does Positive Feedback Look Like?

  • Pick your battles. Chances are you have a few things that you think could improve the work situation, but don’t overwhelm people with a laundry list. It can start to feel like a personal or company attack and most likely that is not your intent at all. Instead, pick the most pressing issue and bring it to light. Once that has been solved you can start moving down the list.

  • Find balance. Yes, bring up an issue, but don’t pick at it. You don’t want to sink moral by being hyper focused on the negative. You also don’t want to go in being Polly Anna either. If there is a serious issue it’s important you are direct about it, just don’t be mean about it either.

  • Say what needs to be said. Being vague or leaving details out helps no one. Come prepared to talk with examples and even numbers that show how improving X can yield far better results than what is currently being achieved. You are here to solve a problem, not leave people more confused than they were before.

  • Let others speak. You said what you needed to and provided evidence and a path forward, however, it is important to let others speak. Maybe they have questions that need more clarification from you. Maybe they are aware of something that makes your suggestion not work, or they need a chance to let you know their side of the story. End of the day you all need to work together to move forward and that won’t happen with one-sided conversations.

Five Steps for Starting the Conversation

1. Ask for permission before going into your suggestions. People are sensitive creatures and can take things personal that aren’t meant to be personal at all. Asking someone if they have time for some feedback allows whoever you need or want to talk to time to mentally prepare. By asking someone for their time it feels less like an attack and more like a productive conversation.

2. Make clear what you’ve observed. This one is tricky because you will want to use specific examples, but you need to try and keep the commentary from being accusatory or judgmental. “You seem disinterested in meetings” seems much more harsh than “I observed you seemed distracted in yesterday’s meeting”. The latter statement keeps things open for the other person to explain what might be going on in their life where as the first statement lets it be know you have already made up your mind about what is happening.

3. Give your reasoning. Be clear and use “I” statements. “I observed.” “It makes me feel like.” “I noticed that.” These are all statements that are hard to argue with because it’s on you versus “accusing” the person you are trying to communicate with. By communicating this way you keep what you have to say from sounding like an attack which will lead to a more productive conversation.

4. Allow time for digestion. The other person(s) need to be allowed time to think on and respond to what you have proposed. This may take a few minutes or require convening the next day. Either way it is important you respect the other person’s right to a response and allow them the time they need to process everything.

5. Be prepared with affirmative action. Nothing is worse than someone who goes in with guns blazing, but no plan to fix or improve a situation. Keep it simple—one to three positive steps that will get things rolling in the right direction is all you need. You don’t want to overwhelm whoever and you also don’t want to leave them directionless.

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