How to Give Useful Feedback and Advice

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Sections of this topic

    How to Give Useful Feedback and Advice

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Test – How Good Are You at Giving Feedback Now?

    Feedback: Negative, Positive or Just Right?
    How to Share Useful – and Respectful – Feedback
    Additional Perspectives About Giving and Receiving Feedback

    Also consider
    Related Library Topics

    Test – How Good Are You at Giving Feedback Now?

    Before you read more about giving feedback, you might get an impression of
    how good you are at it now.

    The Feedback Quiz

    Based on the results of that quiz, what do you want to improve? Consider the
    many guidelines in this section.

    Feedback: Negative, Positive or Just Right?

    © Copyright Gail
    Zack Anderson

    Some of us are really good at giving positive feedback. Others are really good
    at giving negative feedback. Not many seem skilled in providing both, what I
    call balanced feedback. Occasionally a client will tell me, “just tell
    it like it is. Be brutally honest.” Or, “you are just being nice.”
    This makes me wonder if my feedback is too polite, or too subtle, even though
    I try to give it honestly and in a balanced fashion. Why? Let’s take a
    look at what can happen when you give feedback, either too positive or too negative.

    Too little positive feedback.

    While working recently with a manager, I noticed that he tended to give mostly
    negative feedback, and very little positive. This manager stated that he had
    been taught that giving negative feedback would be more motivational. He also
    thought positive feedback seemed “too soft” and unnecessary. As
    he added: “Why should we praise people for just doing their jobs?”

    When most or all feedback is negative, people know what you don’t like,
    but they often have to guess at what you do like or want from them. They may
    feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the criticism, and they may take it personally.
    They don’t ready minds, and so are often confused about what you really
    want. They may lose confidence, since everything they do seems wrong. In addition,
    if the only time they hear from you is when you have a complaint, they may soon
    begin to feel defensive, or try to avoid interactions with you.

    That said, negative feedback has its place. To be effective it needs to be
    specific and non-judgmental. Compare these two comments on a written report:

    1. “I can’t believe you turned in such shoddy work. Don’t
      you know any better?”
    2. “One of your conclusions was faulty and you had 3 typos on the report.”

    The first comment is shaming and demotivating. I feel bad, but I don’t
    know what I should do differently. The second comment seems deliberately unemotional,
    so it takes the shame out of it. It also gives me specific information about
    what I can do to improve.

    Too much positive feedback.

    If you are a big believer in positive feedback, or if you don’t want
    to hurt people’s feelings, you may be relying too much on positive feedback
    and fail to deliver the bad news. We have all heard about employees who received
    glowing performance reviews right up to the day they were let go for “performance
    issues.” Obviously, there were problems that should have been addressed.
    If all you give is positive feedback, people can have an unrealistically high
    view of their worth and performance levels. Because they receive unbalanced
    feedback, they can have confidence above and beyond their actual performance

    Positive reinforcement certainly has its place, and to be effective it also
    needs to be specific and clear. Consider these two examples:

    1. “Good job. Keep it up.”
    2. “Your report was clear, your conclusions were on target, and the writing
      was crisp and accurate.”

    The first comment may make me feel good, but I am not really sure what was
    right about my work. It might make me feel bad because you didn’t even
    take time to notice what I did. In other words, the easy compliment seems canned
    and can come across as insincere. The second comment is all positive, but it
    tells me what you valued, and clearly shows you read my report.

    Balanced feedback.

    Balanced feedback provides feedback on what is being done well as well as what
    could be improved. The positive feedback builds confidence and reinforces the
    “good” behavior you want to see more of. It clarifies expectations.
    It feels good. The negative feedback is given factually and preferably with
    suggestions for improvement.

    Consider this example of balanced feedback:

    1. “Your report was clear, your conclusions were on target, and the writing
    was crisp and accurate. There were several typos, and for that I suggest more
    careful proofing. And one of your conclusions wasn’t clear to me. Let’s
    talk it over this afternoon and compare notes. Overall, great job!”

    If you lead, coach or develop people, I suggest aiming for balanced feedback
    that builds confidence, shows the direction you want the performance to take,
    and highlights areas for improvement in a clear, non-punishing way. At the same
    time, note that people react differently. Some crave the honest feedback, and
    some crave the “feel good” aspects of positive feedback. Some remember
    and take to heart any criticism, and some live for it. So adjust accordingly,
    but always strive to be honest, sincere and matter-of-fact.

    By being honest and straightforward, and by offering balanced feedback, the
    people you influence can build skills and confidence at the same time.

    How to Share Useful – and Respectful –

    © Copyright Carter McNamara,
    MBA, PhD

    Feedback to employees is information regarding their performance and also is
    information they can act on. Feedback must be shared in a manner that is understandable
    to them and is perceived by them as being provided in a highly respectful manner.
    Sharing feedback involves skills in effective listening, verbal and non-verbal
    communications, and working in multi-cultural environments. Consider the following
    guidelines, as well.

    1. Be clear about what you want to say before you say it.

    You might have already sensed what feedback you want to convey. However, you
    should be clear to yourself about what you want to convey and how you want to
    convey it.

    2. Share your feedback in a concise and specific manner, then you can embellish.

    People often lose specificity when they speak because they say far too much,
    rather than not enough. Or, they speak about general themes and patterns. When
    giving feedback, first share what you saw or heard, what you want instead, and
    how the person can achieve it. Then you can add more descriptive information
    if necessary.

    3. Avoid generalizations.

    Avoid use of the words “all,” “never” and “always.”
    Those words can seem extreme, lack credibility and place arbitrary limits on
    behavior. Be more precise about quantity or proportion, if you address terms
    of quantities, at all.

    4. Be descriptive rather than evaluative.

    Report what you are seeing, hearing or feeling. Attempt to avoid evaluative
    words, such as “good” or “bad.” It may be helpful to
    quickly share your particular feeling, if appropriate, but do not dwell on it
    or become emotional.

    5. Own the feedback.

    The information should be about your own perception of information, not about
    the other’s perceptions, assumptions and motives. Use ‘I’
    statements as much as possible to indicate that your impressions are your own.

    6. Be careful about giving advice.

    When giving feedback, it is often best to do one thing at a time – share
    your feedback, get the person’s response to your feedback, and then, when
    he/she is more ready to consider additional information, share your advice with

    Additional Perspectives on Giving and Receiving

    Guidelines for Giving Feedback

    Contrast of the Technical and Social Science Views of Feedback

    Leadership Knowledge
    Base: Information to Improve Your Leadership Skills.

    for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

    to Deliver Bad News to Employees

    and Leadership

    of Positive Feedback

    How to Give Your Boss Feedback
    Giving a High Performer Productive Feedback
    How to Handle Negative Feedback From Your Boss

    Employee Want To Know How They’re Doing

    Getting People To Give Their Very Best

    Kind of Feedback Are You Getting From Employees?

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Giving and Sharing Feedback

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which
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    For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:

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