How to give feedback

This article goes over how to give feedback to your direct report.


Why should you give feedback? Because you want to help your direct succeed. After a job well done, praise your direct. If there’s an area for improvement, provide critical feedback.

Feedback—like coaching—is an ongoing process. As a manager, your job is to help your team succeed, so always give feedback with that in mind.


When should you give feedback? During one-on-ones or when it’s still fresh on your mind. Don’t wait too long or else you’ll forget it. The earlier you give feedback, the quicker you can align with your direct on what’s working and what’s not.

To increase morale, give positive feedback. To bring awareness to problem areas, give constructive feedback. The quicker they are addressed, the faster you’ll set your direct up for success.


Where should you give feedback? In public or private? It depends. Positive feedback can be given in public or private. But negative feedback should always be given in private. Why? Because you never want to publicly humiliate someone. Doing so will lead to resentment in the long run.


How should you give feedback? With clarity, objectivity, and compassion.

Before giving feedback, ask for permission first. You can pose the question “Can I give you feedback?” or “Can I make an observation?” This ensures your direct is in the right mindset to receive feedback. If your direct is unable to receive feedback, delay giving it until he or she is receptive to it.

Once your direct is ready, your feedback should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

If your feedback is not specific, relevant, or timely, it can get lost. Saying, “You should speak up more,” is less impactful than, “I noticed you didn’t speak up that much during last Friday’s retrospective meeting.

Your feedback shouldn’t criticize the person, but focus on the behavior. So make observations, not judgements. The goal of feedback is to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Thus focus on the action, and word the feedback as cause and effect. “When you do X, it causes Y” or “When you don’t speak up during meetings, the team loses a valuable voice.

Don’t attack the person’s ego or the receiver will respond defensively. To soften your statement, say, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’ve been speaking up less during meetings. Is anything the matter?

For every negative feedback, provide three positive feedback or else your direct may lose motivation. You can use the positive-negative-positive approach, which is to give a positive compliment followed up by a negative feedback to another positive compliment. For example, “You did a great job calling out risk to the project last week but it felt like you didn’t say much during retro. I think if you spoke out more, the team would greatly value your insights.

If your direct disagrees with your feedback, use it as an opportunity to come to a shared understanding. If the response makes sense, acknowledge it. If it doesn’t, explain your position but don’t force your direct to accept it. Focus on influencing people over forcing people to change.

Another way to give feedback is to ask open-ended questions. These are “what” and “how” questions like “What did you think about retro?” and “How did retro go last week?

Feedback doesn’t end after it’s given—you’ll need to follow up afterwards. If your direct followed the feedback, provide positive reinforcement. If your direct didn’t follow the feedback, understand why he or she didn’t. Was your feedback unclear? Or did the direct ignore your feedback? Either way, call it out and work with your direct on resolving the misalignment.

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