If you have a performance review or feedback session coming up, you might find you are in the vast majority of people who dread the experience—especially if you have had a bad experience in receiving or giving feedback in the past.

Yet as humans, we truly need and benefit from feedback. Unfortunately, parties on both sides of the table have trouble with these sessions and a lot of companies fail to offer a defined feedback loop for its people.

The truth is, feedback isn’t just for those who are underperforming or struggling with a particular topic or task. Everyone benefits equally from good feedback, but it’s often the star performers who shock leaders by leaving the company in the absence of regular, quality feedback. Without it, people will often make their own assumptions about their performance based on their fears or most negative perceptions. They’ll begin to think their employer doesn’t care about them or their work and seek the feedback they need from somewhere else.

As a leader, being able to have candid conversations with your people—about the good, the bad, and everything in between—is crucial to the performance, relationships, success, and well-being of the team as a whole.

The three types of feedback

There are three types of feedback. You will find that each of your team members will likely need a different one during different situations.

  1. Appreciation feedback involves seeing, acknowledging, connecting, motivating, or thanking someone.
  2. Coaching feedback helps a person expand their knowledge, sharpen a skill, or improve their capabilities.
  3. Evaluation feedback, or the more traditional type of feedback, rates or ranks someone against a set of standards to align expectations or inform decision-making.

Your goal in giving feedback is for your people to learn and to help them grow. So when that feedback is off-base, unfair, poorly delivered, or they aren’t in a place to receive feedback, it becomes a completely useless exercise for both parties. This is why it is such a valuable leadership skill to develop.

Take these eight tips for giving feedback into your next meeting to ensure your people are getting the support they need to grow.

Eight tips for giving feedback

Luckily, there are several great tips leaders can use to offer clear, valuable feedback. I like to refer to both Facilitating with Ease! by Ingrid Bens and Radical Candor by Kim Scott for more on being a good feedback giver.

Clarify your objective. What are you trying to accomplish through this feedback? Ask yourself if the notes you are intending to give are focused on your own needs or on the receiver’s needs. Focusing on your own needs usually limits the conversation. Instead, ask them what kind of feedback they are looking for.

Be specific. Vague feedback is one of the biggest dilemmas in giving feedback. If you offer someone a high five or a “Great job!” without detail, they will walk away with no idea what it means, why it’s important, or what to replicate in the future.

Solicit feedback rather than imposing it. It is common for companies to set performance metrics and goals for their employees to accomplish and to review these in quarterly or yearly performance reviews, often with a focus on the leader’s own observations. Instead, try asking your people about their own goals and perceptions of their performance. It’s much more powerful to focus on what they have identified, and if they have some self-awareness, these observations often align with what you see in them.

Time it right. Giving feedback on something six months after the fact is pretty useless. Foster relationships that aren’t centered on only giving and receiving feedback to allow for more open communication. Feedback shouldn’t have to wait for a formal performance evaluation.

Avoid judgment and “fact-check” your feedback. You want to avoid offering impressions over facts. Use “I” statements to be descriptive, avoid commenting on them as a person or assuming their intent, and check with the receiver or with others to avoid misjudging the situation.

Demonstrate caring and honesty. Offer your feedback with the positive intent of helping your employee to grow and achieve their goals. Scott discusses in her book that when you care personally about people, you are more willing to challenge them directly about behaviors that might be getting in their way. But if you are uncomfortable with these conversations, you can fall into what she calls “ruinous empathy.” This can lead to excusing behaviors, doing someone’s work for them, and getting in the way of their growth rather than being honest with them.

Don’t offer too much. It’s really important not to offer feedback on too many things. You don’t want a long, arduous feedback session because it will overwhelm the receiver. They won’t be able to focus on what is actually important, even if you offer up 10 pieces of positive feedback. Simply pick one or two meaningful points to focus on that are actionable for that person. Facilitating more open conversations will also support this so that you aren’t having one lengthy conversation once a year. Open, two-way dialogue is key to successful feedback conversations.

Be aware of the obstacles. Common obstacles often keep people from having these crucial conversations. Fear of negative consequences, dealing with potential conflict or anger, avoiding hurt feelings, and preserving relationships can all keep people from engaging in successful feedback conversations. Be aware of these and continue developing your relationship with the person outside of feedback sessions. You have to develop a level of trust to have the difficult conversations, but if the only time you talk to them is when there is a problem that won’t create a solid foundation for open communication. Continue to put deposits into the relationship outside of feedback.

You can spend hours writing performance reviews or preparing for these discussions, but if you are in a situation where the person isn’t able to hear, absorb, or act on the feedback, you won’t make any progress. Using the tips above will help you ensure the feedback you offer is what your people need at the time and will help them grow in their position.

TCL Members can watch Tanja’s Personal Leadership Hour on Trends and Best Practices in Performance Feedback for free. Not a member? Join today.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels.