The Four Steps for Giving Great Feedback



In the world of business, giving effective feedback is perhaps the most powerful tool. Whether you’re giving feedback to your colleagues or employees, it needs to be properly packaged and delivered if you want to achieve a positive change and see your organization grow and flourish.

But unfortunately, for many people, receiving criticisms, even the most constructive ones, about their performance in a company often causes fear and anxiety. For this reason, we fail to get our message across clearly and effectively or entirely ignore giving feedback to avoid discomfort.

In this article, we'll find out why giving and receiving feedback is so difficult and show you some strategies to help you become a great and confident feedback giver.

What Makes Giving and Receiving Feedback Difficult

We could say that when it comes to giving feedback, people generally fall into two main camps. You might be part of the camp that’s very soft and indirect when giving feedback. This is usually the case when you’re worried that the receiver of your feedback won’t like you, resulting in your message being confusing and people not even recognizing that the feedback was being given.

On the other hand, you might fall into the opposite category, where you’re too direct, or maybe insensitive, with your giving feedback. This causes others to perceive the feedback as negative and unhelpful, resulting in the receiver becoming defensive.

So, what is the underlying reason for this?

Well, the main reason for this is the part of our brain, called the amygdala. It is tuned to scan for social threats all the time, trying to figure out whether the message is harmful to us or not and activating stress hormones triggered by fear, aggression, or anxiety.

And the truth is, most of the time, our feedback giving is not quite brain-friendly. When somebody points out our mistakes or suggests how we can improve our performance, our brain registers it as a threat and causes us to either go into a defensive mode or completely retreat. The feedback giver then also becomes discouraged, starts to make justifications, and the whole thing derails very quickly.

So, let’s see what we can do about it.

The Four-Part Formula for Giving Great Feedback

While giving and receiving feedback is quite a delicate process, there are ways and certain strategies you can implore to become a better and more effective feedback giver. Next time you try to deliver a difficult message, try following these steps:

Step #1. The Micro Yes-Question: To send the signal to the other person that the feedback is coming, start by asking a short question, such as, I would like to share some ideas for how we can improve things. Do you have a minute or two?

This will do two things for you. Firstly, it’s your pacing tool, preparing the other person for the upcoming feedback. And secondly, it creates a moment of buy-in, allowing the person some autonomy and freedom to answer either yes or no to your micro yes-question.

Step #2. Give your data point: Here, the goal is to be specific about what you want the other person to change. Therefore, you should avoid the so-called blur words and focus on actual data points. For example, instead of saying, You could be more reliable, you should be more precise and say, You said you’d send me the email by 12, but I still don’t have it.

If you fail to specify exactly what's bothering you and stick to blur words, your colleague or employee won't realize what they're doing wrong and will keep repeating the same behavior.

Step #3. The impact statement: Now, it’s time to explain how the previous data point impacted or affected you. For example, Without your email, I was blocked and couldn’t continue with my project.

This explains the logic between the two points, as well as meaning and purpose, all the things the brain craves.

Step #4. A question: Wrapping your feedback message with a question is the secret ingredient all the great feedback givers use. You could ask something like, What are your thoughts on it?, or how do you see it?

This step is important because it shifts the conversation from being a monologue into a joint problem-solving situation. 

And last but not least, great leaders and feedback givers are able not only to convey their message well but also ask for feedback regularly. So, rather than pushing feedback, they’re pulling it. It’s fundamental because it creates trust, keeps the conversations between co-workers flowing, and ultimately, helps you creatively explore and grow as a unified system.

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.

- Elon Musk.  

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