You’re likely used to providing feedback to your students after they’ve completed an assignment or examination. But at times, in the name of improved departmental relationships or on-the-job performance, you may need to discuss a situation or pattern of behavior with a co-worker. Depending on your relationship with the person, this can be a challenging and sensitive endeavor.

These tips, adapted from suggestions provided in Richard L. Daft and Dorothy Marcic’s Building Management Skills: An Action-First Approach, can help you provide effective feedback to mentees, direct reports—and perhaps colleagues—in a clear, cogent, and respectful manner.

Tips for providing effective feedback

When you’re providing feedback, make sure it’s:

  • Timely. Though you should wait until a private, opportune moment to talk about a particular incident, don’t wait too long; if you do, your comment could lose its impact and neither of you may remember what happened as clearly as you did when the incident occurred.
  • Based on the person’s behavior. Focus the conversation on a particular action or behavioral pattern, rather than the person’s character or personality.
  • Respectful. Always give consideration to how you’re stating your feedback. Never use harsh or abrasive language. Frame things from your own perspective (“I have noticed…” or “I feel…”), because “you” statements (such as “You always…” or “You never…”) can carry a negative, critical tone that you may not intend to communicate.
  • Based on objective facts. If you are discussing a particular pattern of behavior, don’t mention things in terms of generalities (“I’ve seen you act rudely to others in the department”); mention information that provides an explicit example of the behavior you’re referencing (“The other day in the department meeting, I noticed that you interrupted Bob three times during the course of his presentation”).
  • Within the person’s power to address. If the person truly cannot do anything to effect change within a particular situation, then reconsider discussing it with him or her.
  • Stated positively. Let the person know what they do well, in addition to what needs improvement, so that they come away from your conversation confident in their ability to change, rather than defeated.
  • Given with future improvement as a goal. Rather than being prescriptive about how the other person’s behavior should change, discuss different ways to approach a situation in the future. If the other person comes up with the solution on his or her own, it’s more likely that a change will be made. (Daft and Marcic, 346)

Reference: Daft, Richard L. and Dorothy Marcic. 2014. Building Management Skills: An Action-First Approach. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

What are your suggestions for providing feedback to colleagues? Share them in the comments section.