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  • Peg Hunt

The Feedback Formula

Many of us struggle with giving feedback. We feel torn between being honest and not hurting people’s feelings or, in our frustration, we give harsh feedback. Learning to give feedback that is meaningful and can be heard by the other person is essential. Whether at work or at home, giving honest feedback can strengthen relationships, and it is a critical skill for leaders. As leaders, we are tasked with getting work done through others which means that we must set direction and provide course correction. Giving feedback is critical to our own success as well as to the success of those who report to us.

Research has shown that people are pleasantly surprised by the results of sharing feedback—receivers of feedback appreciated hearing feedback, givers of feedback said that it improved their relationships. But an important caveat researchers identified is that the feedback needs to be in concert with support of the person and the relationship. For example, you have a team member who is chronically late to meetings, and you have made clear the expectation, but the behavior continues. You could chastise them for being late and wasting everyone’s time or you could get curious and say, “I know you understand the importance of being at meetings on time, but you have been late for the last two meetings. What is preventing you from being on time?” This approach is more respectful of the person and relationship-- you are not changing your standard; you are finding out what is getting in the way. In this instance, you might find another time might work better or they honestly didn’t understand the impact on others. In this time of hybrid work environments and generational differences on how people approach work, it is important to have this kind of dialogue so that expectations are shared, and you can understand another’s intention or perspective. With this foundation, it is much easier to provide support, give more helpful feedback and problem solve.

The Feedback Formula:

1. Set the stage:

  • Negotiate a time to meet. This is one way to convey respect for the person—you are not dumping feedback on them unexpectedly.

  • When you do meet, share the context—that you value the relationship and their success and that you would like to share some feedback that could be helpful., e.g., Thank you for meeting with me. You are a crucial player on our team and I value your expertise. I would like to talk about something I’ve noticed that could make you even more successful.

2. Lead with the facts—what did you see/ hear? Often, when we most want to give feedback, we may lead with how we felt or what we thought (our interpretation of the other’s intentions). However, the best place to start when giving feedback is to describe “the facts”, what everyone could see and hear. e.g., In our last release, I appreciated that you were quick to help whenever anyone asked you to do something, but I did not see you making suggestions and leading the work based on your own expertise.

3. Share your story or how you interpreted the events. This is the part of the conversation most likely to go awry because this is where we are guessing at other people’s intentions. Tone of voice is important because we want to convey that we are guessing at motivations and don’t know the whole story. As fraught as it is, it is often necessary to share our story because facts may not carry the same meaning for everyone (in the example above, your expectation is that this person show more initiative, but they think that the most important thing is to follow direction or requests from others). Following this example, you might say, “it’s important to our success that you take initiative and share your expertise even if you might be feeling unsure. You have an important perspective that no one else has.”

4. Ask them to share their views on the situation. e.g., I’m curious about how you saw your role in the release.

5. Agree on next steps. Be specific and define what is expected. Agree on who will do what by when and how you will follow up. In the example above, you might agree that the team member will provide product direction on future releases, and that the two of you will check in on how it is going in your one-to-ones.

Again, to return to the larger context, people will generally be more forgiving of less-than-perfect feedback technique when they already know you are on their side. The best demonstration of this is through your attention and feedback on what they are already doing well. And remember, people appreciate getting helpful feedback if it makes them more successful!

If you are a person who struggles to give honest feedback, there are many resources out there to improve. One of my favorites is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler—it’s under 250 pages, full of examples and easy to apply. There is a great podcast on Hidden Brain,

If you’re still stuck or you want to improve your feedback or other leadership skills, working with a coach can be very helpful. Feel free to re-post or share this blog! Please contact me at

© Peg Hunt, MS & Anne Garing, PhD

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