How To Give Helpful Feedback Without Offending Someone

5 Ways to Encourage Someone to Improve Without Affecting Their Self-Confidence

We’re always receiving feedback in the form of our results. Whenever we’re not creating the results we want, we know we have to do things differently.

Similarly, we can learn to give feedback to others if they’re not making progress or meeting deadlines. Being able to provide feedback without destroying a person’s self-confidence is really valuable, especially if we’re in any type of leadership or managerial role.

I remember when I had a corporate career, performance management sessions was something I dreaded, both as a receiver and as the giver of feedback. There was always a level of discomfort going through the process because as human beings, being challenged or questioned by another person can be uncomfortable.

The good news was I always survived those sessions and they always helped me improve and I was also able to help my team members improve.

We tend to prefer positive feedback. Receiving negative feedback can be awkward at times.

  • They either reject or ignore the feedback.
  • They may get angry at the person providing the feedback.
  • They may feel discouraged by the feedback and choose not to improve.

The whole purpose of giving or receiving feedback is to improve and continually move forward towards agreed objectives. In order to prevent someone from feeling discouraged as a result of negative feedback, there are specific things we can do.

Ways to give feedback without offending

Before giving any type of feedback, it’s helpful to be prepared as best as we can. This may include having the relevant facts, stats, data, reports or statements ready to validate something that’s being shared.

  1. Use the “sandwich” method. This is one of the most common ways of providing feedback. It starts off with the positive, like all the things going or done well, then focuses on what can be improved, before ending with another positive, such as encouraging the person to improve and be an example to others. The aim is for the person receiving the feedback to want to improve rather than stay where they are.
  2. Focus on the situation, behaviour and impact. A common mistake when giving negative feedback is to inform the person what they did or didn’t do, rather than focus on their behaviours specific to a situation. An example is instead of saying, “This is what you did,” a better approach is to say, “During such and such event, this was the behaviour that was observed and this was the impact it had.” This type of feedback makes it easier for the person receiving to relate to it.
  3. Be specific with your feedback. Similar to the previous point, our aim should be to provide as many examples which the person receiving will know and relate to. Instead of saying, “You could have finished some of your projects on time,” saying, “Project X that was due to have been completed by such and such date was actually completed on this date, so I’d like to discuss what can be done to prevent something like this from happening again” is a more helpful approach.
  4. Encourage new actions. The aim for any feedback session should be to promote new behaviours, practices and actions. Offering additional support or resources and making recommendations are useful things to inspire new actions.
  5. Make it a dialogue, if necessary. Feedback sessions shouldn’t be a monologue; they should be conversations with input from all involved. Rather than using “you” constantly, using “we” will help reassure the person receiving the feedback that they’re supported.
  • Thank the person for their time and for being willing to provide input as well.
  • Let the person know what will happen next in terms of additional support or any follow-up sessions.
  • Advice the person what you’re going to do to help them succeed.
  • End on a positive note, whenever possible.

Receiving and giving feedback is one of the most powerful techniques to ensure goals are achieved and people feel a sense of pride or accomplishment in what they’re doing. The better we get at giving or receiving feedback, the better our performance and results will be.

Action Step: Practice these ideas on providing feedback with a team member or someone you work with regularly. The aim is to get comfortable providing feedback first, then share these ideas with someone else and ask them to provide you with feedback.

Question: What is another technique or practice that can be used to provide feedback to someone without offending them?

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Neel Raman

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