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Giving effective feedback: a practical guide

Feedback is a valuable tool for both personal and professional development. However, it can be challenging to understand the difference between constructive feedback and criticism. Below you'll find a guide that not only provides practical steps for giving effective feedback, but also discusses the importance of managing your own emotions and avoiding common pitfalls.


1. Preparation: laying the foundation

Providing effective feedback requires careful preparation not only for the substantive part, but also for the emotional aspect. Below are some topics to prepare:


Collect facts

Collect concrete examples of the behavior or results you want to discuss. This helps make your feedback clearer and more understandable.


Purpose of feedback

Reflect on what you want to achieve with your feedback. Is the goal to correct behavior, develop a new skill or to express appreciation for good work? A positive approach is essential. Eye on the prize!


Manage your own emotions

Emotions can cloud the clarity of the message and put the recipient on the defensive. Self-reflection is key here. Managing your own emotions is essential to ensure that your feedback can be received as intended.


i. Awareness of emotions:

Recognizing and accepting your own feelings is the first step towards effective communication. Take a step back and ask yourself what you are feeling and whether your emotions can influence your perception. Are you angry, frustrated, disappointed, do you feel discouraged, unfair or powerless?


ii. Reflection on emotions:

Explore what lies behind your emotions and take responsibility for your part. This may include personal triggers or previous experiences that influence your perception of the situation. For example, is your own perfectionism or your need for control getting in the way? Be aware of your own expectations, triggers, assumptions, and perceptions.


iii. Switch perspective:

Try to see the situation from the other person's perspective. How would the other person view the behaviors or results you want to discuss? It is not about whether you are right or wrong, but whether you can empathize with the other person. This can help you deliver your message in a more constructive way.


iv. Parking emotions:

Approach the situation as objectively as possible and try to 'park' your own emotions temporarily. Methods such as breathing exercises, a short walk, or mindfulness can help take the edge off your emotions and have a calm conversation.


2. Giving feedback: the core principles

Giving real feedback is a gift. Bring it that way too. Please take the following aspects into account.


Timing and place

Choosing the environment and the moment influences the extent to which the recipient of feedback is open to listening and reflecting. Ask if and when the other person is open to feedback. This can increase the willingness to listen.


To transfer the message

Giving feedback is a matter of concretely describing the other person's behavior or results and sharing what effect it has on you. You do this without sharing your judgment, opinion, or accusations. Remove the negative charge. Provide feedback as follows:


i. Describe behavior or results specifically:

Focus on specific behaviors or actions, using “I” messages to indicate how these behaviors affect you or the situation. If you keep it to yourself, the other person will feel less attacked and will be more open to your point. For example:   “I have noticed lately that you regularly perform certain tasks without consultation”


ii. Share effect:

Share how the behavior affects you, the team, or the project goals. This makes the feedback more relevant and understandable. You do this without sharing your judgment, opinion, or accusations. Remove the negative charge. For example: “This makes me feel frustrated, because it often leads to duplication of work.”


iii. Expressing needs:

This is optional, but sharing your needs can help clarify the message. Focus on what you need or expect from the other person, formulated in a positive way. In other words, share what you do want. Example: “I would appreciate it if we coordinated our plans better.”


Communication style

A constructive tone and open attitude are essential. Deliver it in a way that shows that the feedback is intended to be constructive, and not to vent your own frustration or actually criticize. Be hard on the content and soft on the relationship. After you provide feedback, make sure you are actively listening. This way you ensure that the recipient feels heard and understood, which contributes to a more open and constructive conversation.

3. Pitfalls in giving feedback

When giving feedback there are pitfalls that can undermine its effectiveness. Here are some to avoid:


Bad timing

Choose an appropriate time and place for feedback. Start by asking if the other person is open to feedback.


Personality vs. Behaviour

Leave your own opinion or judgment out of it and try to formulate it as neutrally as possible. Focus on specific observable behaviors or results, not on personality traits.


Provoking defensiveness

Use “I” messages. Do not attempt to formulate views or opinions. Avoid words like “always” or “never”. Do not judge or blame, because then you are criticizing and that is not feedback.

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