The Top 3 Mistakes When Giving Feedback

Feedback is a gift, providing insight into how our words and behaviors impact others. To ensure that gift is received as intended, avoid these three common mistakes:

Fixing the "problem."

When giving feedback, your role is to help show the impact or consequences that occur and affect you as a result of the person’s behavior. Your role is not to tell the person what they need to do or how they should change. That is up to them.

If you are a manager, or if you are asked for input, then it is okay to offer suggestions. However, many people approach feedback as a directive instead of a gift. A better approach is to clearly describe the behavior, the impact, or your reaction, and what would work better for you going forward. This doesn’t mean telling them how to fix the issue; instead, it is showing the person what results are acceptable to you.

For example: “When you cut me off in meetings, as you did during today’s call when we were discussing the logistics for the Khan merger (clearly describe the behavior with examples), it makes me feel like you don’t value my input. It leads me to shut down and not offer up my suggestions (impact or consequence).

Focusing on the past and not the future.

Another common mistake is focusing on why the person did or said what they did.

While it may be helpful to have this information, ultimately, the goal is to focus on future outcomes.

What we often hear: “I just don’t understand why you didn’t let me finish speaking before jumping in with your questions. What was your reason for doing that?”

A better approach is to clearly state what you need going forward: “For me to contribute effectively, I need to be able to finish what I am saying before being questioned or challenged.”

Using subjective and vague language

Perhaps the biggest mistake that people make when giving feedback is using vague or subjective language.

Terms such as “always,” “never,” “maybe,” and “kinda” are rarely helpful nor accurate.

If you say, “You always interrupt me,” it can be hard for that person to see this as factual, especially if they can easily cite several times when they did not interrupt you.

Providing feedback on something that happened last week isn’t as effective as giving feedback on something that occurred within the last hour. For example, “During our staff meeting this morning, you interrupted me three times when I was trying to make a suggestion.”

Vague language such as “kinda” or “maybe” is also often used in an attempt to soften the message, but in reality, it does a better job of confusing the person. Telling someone that you were “kinda” hurt by their interrupting you isn’t nearly as direct or effective as saying, “I was embarrassed and hurt when you interrupted me so many times.”

Feedback is not only a gift but also an essential tool for career advancement and personal growth. By avoiding these three pitfalls, make sure you are giving the most with and getting the most out of your feedback.

Melissa Christenson, President of Creative Training Resources (CTR), has over 30 years of experience designing and delivering communication and management training. CTR’s Giving and Receiving Quality Feedback is available in virtual and in-person formats.

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