Giving and receiving feedback: 8 important do’s & don’ts

For some bosses, “Good work” or “That stunk” is all the feedback they offer employees in a day. But the employees crave a whole lot more.

Studies consistently show that bad relationships with bosses and the lack of consistent feedback can drive good workers away.

Feedback failures also lead to lawsuits. When employees don’t hear about their performance problems, they’re surprised when the ax falls.

Here are eight “do’s” and “don’ts” on giving and receiving feedback from ClearRock, an executive coaching firm:

  1. Don’t become judgmental, and don’t personalize feedback. Focus on the behavior that needs to be changed.
  2. Do start feedback with positive observations about the employee’s work performance before detailing areas that need improvement.
  3. Do limit feedback to areas the employee has the ability to change. Feedback that is irrelevant won’t be accepted and may even be detrimental.
  4. Don’t “over-dump” in one session. Feedback doesn’t need to be packaged up for formal meetings. Small, simple insights work better.
  5. Do use the word “I,” and not “we.” Take ownership of the feedback. Say “I observed you …”
  6. Do give the recipient a chance to respond. Listen as openly as possible, even if all you expect to receive are rationalizations.
  7. Don’t get overly defensive when receiving feedback; keep it in perspective. “Feedback is meant as constructive information for one’s improvement, not as a judgment,” says ClearRock managing partner Greg Gostanian.
  8. Do provide your reaction when given the chance to respond. Don’t suffer in silence. But focus on the work-related reasoning in your comments without personalizing your reaction.  

When should you NEVER give feedback?

Rejected job candidates sometimes contact HR or hiring managers for constructive criticism on how they can better interview. How should you respond? Here’s what a few HR professionals think:

“The last thing you want to do is expose the company to an EEO complaint. I would state that the person should visit different Web sites for career help and interview tips.” —Denise, Mississippi

“Giving constructive criticism can open a whole can of worms and future litigation. As HR professionals, we are not job counselors who offer free advice.” —Bradley, New Jersey

“There’s nothing wrong with giving some feedback, as long as it is true and based on the position description.” —Steve, Virginia