How To Give Feedback Without Hurting Anyone's Feelings With 11 Helpful Tips
Feedback is a tricky tight rope. On the one hand, we know that it's given on the sole purpose of helping us improve. You can't grow and become more pro if people are constantly placating you, right? But on the other hand, it can sting. But there are ways to give feedback without hurting anyone's feelings, as impossible as that sounds. While we all might feel a little sensitive when it comes to highlighting our errors or pointing out where we have room to improve, the number one thing to keep in mind is that teachable moments lead you closer to a more #boss status.
After all, if you could be better in your craft, wouldn't you want to be? Haven't we all, at one point or other, looked up articles or read books on how to get further ahead in our industries? We clearly enjoy tips, so why not accept them the same way when they're not solicited?
Granted, it also matters how the person gives you said suggestions. No one ever likes to feel attacked or humiliated, so it takes some tact when offering up pointers. And that's exactly what we'll explore. Below are 11 tips on how to offer feedback without sounding like a jerk.
1. Do It In The Moment
Rather than waiting weeks or until the action becomes a habit, give feedback right in the moment. Career writer Hannah Fleishman at marketing site HubSpot suggested, "Try to address feedback head-on by keeping it timely and relevant. If that means touching base right after a meeting or syncing up two days later, so be it." Why does this help? Because the critique is relevant. You see them doing something that could stand for some improvement, and the thought can be seen as helpful rather than attack-esque.
2. Show You Understand What They're Trying To Achieve
To avoid putting the recipient's back up, show that you understand and support what they're trying to achieve. Lifestyle writer Jason Shen at Lifehack advised, "Show you understand and are aligned with the project's goals." Lying down that kind of groundwork shows you still support their endeavor and know that they're working hard — you just have one minor suggestion.
3. Be Super Specific
While you might think getting specific with your critiques is aggressive, it gives the person in question step by step directions on how to improve. Which makes it less awkward and more helpful. Communication writer Celestine Chua at self development site Personal Excellence explained, "I found that the more specific the person is when giving the feedback, the more actionable it is for me." So for example, instead of saying "Your reports have room for improvement," say something like "The formatting on your reports could be better, and adding action items would be helpful."
4. Let Them Know It's Coming
It might feel awkward, but it's good to let the person know you're about to give them feedback so they mentally prepare themselves. That way they won't feel like it's a drive-by. Business writer Susan Adams at Forbes suggested, "When you give feedback, start by setting an agenda. Let your colleague or employee know what you want to talk about. You might say, 'Bill, could I have a word with you? I’d like to give you some feedback on something I saw at the meeting.'" Then sliding into your suggestion will be simple.
5. Root The Feedback In The Outcome
Rather than making the critique about the person directly ("You're handing in your projects constantly late,") focus the feedback on the outcome ("The team would work so much better if your projects were handed in a little earlier.") Fleishman advised, "To make feedback productive, don’t point fingers; focus on the outcome." By pointing out what the new outcome could be with a change, the suggestion becomes helpful.
6. Show That You Get Their Reasoning
No matter what the person in question is doing, show that you understand their reasoning. This hints at the fact that their line of thinking is totally valid, but there might be a better way to do things. Shen recommended, "Show that you've thought about where they're coming from." This way you're not necessarily saying that they're wrong. There just might be a more efficient way to get the job done.
7. Only Give Feedback On Things That Can Be Changed
Only give your helpful opinion on things that are actionable and can actually be changed by the person in question. Chua explained, "you want to talk about things which the person can do something about, rather than things which are outside of his/her control. Critiquing on the former makes your criticism constructive; critiquing on the latter just makes the person feel bad because he/she can’t do anything about it, even if he/she wants to." For example, this is the difference between telling someone to be less of an introvert (impossible,) or suggesting that they challenge themselves to contribute three times during every meeting (possible.)
8. Take Some Of The Sting Out Of It
If you're giving them feedback because you or someone you know has made the same mistakes in the past, try weaving that anecdote in there. Business writer Charlie Harary at Entrepreneur advised, "Try to give the critique through a personal anecdote or an inspiring story of someone famous who went through the same thing. It’s so much easier to swallow when it’s not straight out about 'you' and 'your' mistakes." It'll take some of the sting out of it knowing they aren't alone.
9. Don't Make Assumptions
I know you wouldn't come up to a person and flat out tell them they're lazy, but before you offer your suggestions, make sure you're not making any assumptions. Harary explained, "The person is not lazy, his or her paper was just sloppy. The person is not incompetent, the editing process was just incomplete." By showing the person you're approaching them assumption-free, you're letting them know this isn't personal or an attack on their character.
10. Always Offer An Explanation Over Your Recs
Rather than just telling the person on how they need to change, explain why you think your way is better. Giving an explanation on how it will be beneficial to them or how it makes more sense than what they're currently doing makes it feel like a valid suggestion — and not just a mean-spirited comment. Chua suggested, "When giving recommendations, it helps (a) to be specific about the recommendations and (b) to briefly explain the rationale behind the recommendation." That way they can really think about your suggestion and see if it works better for them.
11. Have Them Think Of Their Own Recommendation
People usually value their own advise more than the advice of others, so you can try to phrase your conversation in a way where they make up their own improvement-game-plan. You can share the issue you've observed, and then let the person in question take the reins. Adams suggested asking, "One way to get there could be by asking, 'How do you think we should fix this?'" They'll come up with their own recommendations and feel all the more productive and better over it.
Keeping these tips in mind, giving feedback can become a much less awkward, pride-chipping process. Not only are you helpful now, but also tactful! Which makes everyone in this situation feel all the more better.
Images: @jessannkirby/ Instagram