When you’re asked to give someone feedback, does it put you on edge?  Even when the request is made with genuine openness, do you feel afraid of being perceived as overly critical and being rejected because of what you share?  Trust me, you’re not alone.  

Giving feedback is a scary proposition for most people.  Fear about giving feedback is often fueled by assumptions like, “She won’t take it the way I mean it,” or “He doesn’t reallywant my opinion,” or “She has never listened to me before so why should I think she’ll listen now?”  In some situations, you might assume that givinghonestfeedback will only make matters worse or that the person might never speak to you again.  

There are certainly good reasons for being wary and reticent when it comes to feedback.  But, whatever your rationale has been for politely keeping your lips sealed, I encourage you to courageously, skillfully and compassionately step up and speak up. You have a valuable gift to share.

Giving constructive feedback is particularly important when a direct request is made of you.  If you’re a manager, coach or team leader, you have a responsibility to develop people. To accomplish that, constructive input is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.  By not sharing your thoughts, you’re neglecting a critical dimension of your role.  

If you’re a mentor, colleague, parent, partner or a good friend, the people you love and nurture can benefit from what you notice in their behavior.  Why? It’s simple:  what’s in your awareness and line-of-sight may be in their blind spot.  Feedback is the tool that diminishes the size of a person’s blind spot.   

Constructive feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited, when delivered with honesty and respect, in the right setting, can super-charge high performers, boost sagging confidence, spark a flame of inspiration in the bored and unmotivated, and redirect focus for someone who has lost her way.  Here are 5 things to consider if you want your feedback to have a positive impact.

  1. Check your intentions.  If you intend to be critical, bring the person down to size, or unload your anger, disappointment or resentment, don’t say a word.  You’re not in the right frame of mind for the task. Excuse yourself until you can clear out your baggage.  Constructive feedback comes from good intentions – the honest desire to helpful.
  2. Stay away from terms like “your attitude,” or “you’re not motivated,” or “you’re so hostile.”  Instead, ask yourself, “What have I seen this person do or heard him say, that causes me to conclude he has a positive or negative attitude?” When you talk, be specific about behavior – what you’ve seen him do or heard him say.
    For example, you might be tempted to say, “Your attitude towards Susan is disrespectful.”  Instead of sharing your conclusion, describe the behaviors you’ve seen exhibited. Try, “I’ve noticed that when Susan speaks, you tend to roll your eyes, look down at the table, and interrupt her before she finishes.” Then, stop talking.  Let the person reach his own conclusion about the message his actions convey.  Remember, your job is to be the mirror, not the judge. 
  3. Use words, vocal tone and body language that demonstrate respect and non-judgmentalness. 
  4. Find the right time and place to share your perspective.  The rule of thumb I trust is that it’s acceptable to praise publicly, but always critique privately.  
  5. Finally, keep this in mind.  The recipient of feedback always has the right to do whatever they choose with the input you provide.  They may put it into action or ignore it.  Your only role is to skillfully provide high quality, behavior-based information.