How to give feedback that sticks

Whether your feedback is positive or constructive, giving feedback is an opportunity to make a difference in your organization and build deeper relationships with the people we work with.

Too often, we fire off a “good job” email or “could be better” comment without taking a minute to think through our impact.

When you’re not formally in charge, the feedback dynamic can become even more awkward — especially if it’s your boss asking for feedback.

You don’t want to always be the bearer of bad news, yet you recognize you owe it to your team to be forthright, even in difficult circumstances.

Providing straightforward (and kind-hearted) feedback to your subordinates, peers and even boss is instrumental in developing your personal brand and adding value to your organization.

Here are four tips that emerged to make your feedback more impactful:

Don’t skip the positive feedback: It’s easy for good work to get glossed over in the cadence of daily business. When you call it out, you increase engagement, pride and future performance. Even when you’re not the formal leader, lifting up great work from your colleagues is an easy win. It makes the other person feel good (because who doesn’t like to be appreciated?) and it feels good to deliver.

Be as specific as possible: Everyone wants to be told they’re doing a great job, but when you tease out exactly what made the work great, positive feedback will mean even more. Specificity is crucial in constructive feedback. Being told something is just so-so or has room for improvement is frustratingly vague. If you’re offering a suggestion, being specific makes your feedback actionable and valuable.

Give voice to the impact: Of course, people want the respect of their boss and their colleagues but hearing that your hard work made a lasting impact on someone else, be it a teammate, a customer or another constituent, takes that feel-good moment even further.

For example, let’s say someone on your team pulled together an exceptional market trends analysis. It’s easy to say “thanks, that was super helpful.” And that feedback is certainly better than “thx” or worse, not saying anything.

When you add something like “The level of detail in that analysis enabled all of us to be more confident in the decision to move forward with X,” you show the other person just how meaningful their work was.

Ask for feedback: As important as it is to give both positive and constructive feedback, you need to ensure you’re receiving it as well. Sometimes people shy away from giving feedback to top performers, especially those in formal leadership positions. Stay receptive by consistently asking for feedback and being appreciative when it’s offered (even if you don’t take the advice). This practice creates a self-fulfilling loop where collectively, everyone starts to uplevel each other.

Delivering feedback, especially constructive feedback, can make us clam up. Humans have an instinctive need to be liked, and we (incorrectly) convince ourselves, that being liked is mutually exclusive with being truthful.

Yet, you likely remember (and appreciate) the people who gave you meaningful, valuable feedback during the course of your career. Because as much as we want to be liked, we also want to know, that people are looking out for us. When someone gives us feedback, it’s a way of showing they have our back.

Making feedback, both positive and constructive, a regular practice helps alleviate the weirdness in time. When in doubt, ask yourself: How would you want this situation handled if you were on the other end? What about if it was your spouse? Or your child?