• Published April 19, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read
LEADING EFFECTIVELY ARTICLE

How to Give the Most Effective Feedback

Published April 19, 2024
Manager giving effective feedback to another employee and discussing the different types of feedback

Understand the Different Types of Feedback & Avoid Common Feedback Mistakes

Feedback is sort of a necessary evil. No one particularly likes to listen to what they’re doing wrong, and often the words are difficult or confusing to hear. And giving feedback isn’t especially easy, either. But as a leader or coach, it’s your job to give feedback, as constructive suggestions can help your direct reports and colleagues succeed. So make sure you understand what it takes to coach your people.

Whatever your style or your company’s system, chances are that performance reviews are less-than-satisfying events for you and your direct reports. But learning how to give effective feedback  avoiding common feedback mistakes can make the difference between a meaningless (or disastrous) review and a constructive coaching conversation.

Feedback is one of the most important elements of successful performance reviews because it engages the employee in the conversation and puts the spotlight on key issues. In fact, we believe giving effective feedback is the key to improving your talent development.

If you understand the 4 types of feedback, and which one is most effective to start with, giving feedback will feel easier, and your reviews will improve.

The 4 Types of Feedback

Which Seems Most Effective to You?

Virtually all feedback can be classified as one of these 4 types:

  • Directive
  • Contingency
  • Attribution
  • Impact

Infographic: The 4 Types of Feedback

  1. Directive feedback tells someone what to do, even if you’re phrasing it “nicely.” For example, “I suggest that you make priorities clearer to your team.”
  2. Contingency feedback gives a future consequence: “If you keep interrupting people in meetings, they’ll stop cooperating with you.”
  3. Attribution feedback describes someone or their actions in terms of a quality or label, as in “You’re a good communicator” or “You’re undisciplined.”
  4. Impact feedback, on the other hand, informs the receiver about the effect their actions have had on other people or on the organization. Impact feedback is important in performance reviews because it can shed light on something your direct report never knew or thought about. It gets at why their behaviors are either working or not working. An example of impact feedback is: “Team members were confused, and I felt frustrated.”

You’ll be more effective if you’re skilled at using all 4 types of feedback for the right times and for the right reasons. You’ll be even better with lots of practice.

Why Impact Feedback Is the Most Effective Type of Feedback

It’s important to remember that you can’t control how someone feels about or reacts to feedback. Different people will perceive the same situation in different ways. You can’t “make” someone like or agree with what you’re saying, but you can increase the chances that your feedback will be well received and not rejected.

The recipient of feedback is more likely to take feedback well if it isn’t authoritative. If the feedback giver is perceived as leveraging positional power or as commanding, dominating, arrogant, or self-centered, the message will be lost. The recipient of the feedback is likely to be defensive or argumentative — or passively accept what you say, but resent the feedback and act in counterproductive ways later.

Impact feedback is the most effective type of feedback to start with because it informs a person about the results of their behavior without dissecting the details, assuming motivation, or placing blame. Try using our widely recognized Situation-Behavior-Impact model to give feedback and explore intentions, making the feedback a two-way discussion.

Impact feedback isn’t authoritative — you aren’t telling a person what to do, setting forth consequences, or judging. Instead, impact feedback informs the receiver, empowers them, and increases the chance they’ll decide to accept the message.

Impact feedback is a great way to start a conversation and set the stage for more authoritative feedback if it’s needed. Once the feedback receiver realizes the impact of their behavior, they’re more receptive to prescriptive aspects of authoritative forms of feedback.

Feedback That Works Guidebook
Giving feedback to others about their performance is a key developmental experience. Learn how to make the feedback you give even more effective so that others are more likely to hear and benefit from your message.

Common Feedback Mistakes

Avoid These 10 Mistakes When Giving Feedback

When giving different types of feedback to others, avoid these 10 common blunders, taken from our guidebook, Feedback That WorksAnd if you’ve made these feedback mistakes before, don’t beat yourself up. Just avoid them in the future.

1. The feedback judges individuals, not actions.

Putting feedback in judgmental terms puts people on the defensive. And you’ve sent the message that you know what’s right or wrong.

2. The feedback is too vague.

Steer clear of generalized, clichéd catchphrases. If you want to really encourage someone to repeat productive behavior, tell them what they did so they can keep doing it.

3. The feedback speaks for others.

Stick with the information that you know. Dragging a third party’s name into the mix only confuses the recipient, who then wonders why others are talking about them behind their back.

4. Negative feedback gets sandwiched between positive messages.

It may seem like a good idea to unburden the blow of negative comments with positive ones, but the recipient is smart enough to read between the lines, too.

5. The feedback is exaggerated with generalities.

Avoid “always” and “never.” It puts people on the defensive because there’s usually that one time…

6. The feedback psychoanalyzes the motives behind behavior.

It could be a divorce, resentment over a co-worker’s advancement, or burnout, but whatever you think you know about someone’s intents and motives is probably wrong.

7. The feedback goes on too long.

Know when to stop. People need time to process the information they’ve received.

8. The feedback contains an implied threat.

Telling someone their job is in jeopardy doesn’t reinforce good behavior or illustrate bad behavior. It only creates animosity.

9. The feedback uses inappropriate humor.

You might use sarcasm as a substitute for feedback, especially if you’re uncomfortable giving it in the first place. Keep the snide comments to yourself.

10. The feedback is a question, not a statement.

Phrasing feedback as a question is too indirect to be effective. And it may even be interpreted as sarcastic: Really?

How to Customize Feedback to Avoid Resistance

Tips for Giving Feedback for Leaders

Lastly, it’s natural that people will react differently to information about their behavior and performance. Although you can’t force someone to agree with the feedback you give, it may help to consider changing the way you deliver the message. Giving feedback with these things in mind can reduce resistance:

1. Consider the specific situation.

Giving feedback to a new employee who’s anxious about her first presentation is different from giving feedback to a confident, long-term employee who’s eager for more visibility.

2. Remember that people process information differently.

Some people understand your message quickly, while others need time to absorb it. Some will want to focus on decisions, actions, and implications. Others will want to ponder and work out possible solutions on their own. Consider the different ways to influence people and choose the most effective tactic for your situation.

3. Factor in your coachee’s health, personal, and family problems.

Resistance to feedback or unexpected reactions may be connected to stresses and problems outside work. When you’re aware of extenuating circumstances, you may decide to adjust the timing and content of your feedback. But don’t assume you know what’s going on; be prepared to handle the unexpected.

4. Individualize your delivery — keep in mind your coachee’s strengths and weaknesses.

For example, you may think a shoddy production report indicates disinterest or laziness. The coachee may agree the report was shoddy, but they may be embarrassed to admit they don’t understand the new method of calculation. So give feedback about the report, but allow the other person to offer their own reasons and possible solutions. Be sure you actively listen to understand their response.

And remember, there’s no need to psychoanalyze or judge the person. Just have a conversation, and avoid common mistakes that leaders often make when giving different types of feedback.

How to Give Negative Feedback

Best Practices for Feedback to Help Employees Improve

Most of us like to give and receive positive feedback — it feels good, and it can be helpful to know what’s working. But negative feedback is just as important to help people improve what isn’t working. And, if done well, both kinds of feedback are motivating.

In fact, the employees we surveyed reported that they’d actually prefer to get less positive feedback (65% as compared to the 77% they were getting) and more negative feedback (35% as compared to the 23% they were getting).

With careful thought and planning, negative feedback can be a valuable tool. In addition to the tips listed above, consider these best practices when offering negative feedback.

  1. Aim to give feedback that’s 75% positive and 25% negative overall. But when giving negative feedback, get straight to the point. Don’t “sandwich” the feedback — that is, don’t give positive feedback first, followed by the negative feedback, and end with additional positive feedback. When you sandwich the feedback, employees will learn to ignore the first (positive) part because they know the bad news is coming next. And they won’t hear the last (positive) part because they will be focusing on the bad news.
  2. Give negative feedback as soon as possible after a key event, so the employee can accurately recall the event and avoid repeating the same behavior.
  3. Show empathy when delivering negative feedback, and remember feedback is about correcting specific actions — it’s not about fixing employees. They may get defensive if they think they’re “being fixed” and react negatively.
  4. Think about what you’ll say before you say it. Like any skill, giving effective feedback requires practice — so plan time to rehearse the conversation if you need to.
  5. Create a favorable feedback environment. Within your team, and even your organization, building a culture that values active listening and psychological safety can pay off when employees are comfortable receiving, seeking out, and using feedback to improve their performance.

While giving feedback — positive or negative — can feel uncomfortable, with the right technique and plenty of practice, it can go more smoothly.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Equip your leaders to give their teams the feedback that helps them succeed. Partner with us to create a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-based modules, including Feedback That Works, Psychological Safety, Talent Conversations, and Listening to Understand.

  • Published April 19, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read
  • Download as PDF

Based on Research by

Bill Gentry
Bill Gentry, PhD
Former Director, Leadership Insights & Analytics and Senior Research Scientist

Bill’s research at CCL focused on examining what leaders, particularly first-time managers, can do to be successful in their work and life, and to avoid derailment. He’s the author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders and co-author of the guidebook Developing Political Savvy.

Bill’s research at CCL focused on examining what leaders, particularly first-time managers, can do to be successful in their work and life, and to avoid derailment. He’s the author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders and co-author of the guidebook Developing Political Savvy.

Stephen Young
Stephen Young, PhD
Former Manager, Global Leadership Analytics

Steve led our experimentation with new analytic approaches and methodologies, including CCL Fusion, a predictive analytics tool that links people data with business data to inform leadership development investment. He also led research and product development in the areas of user-driven feedback tools, virtual coaching tools, and big data and analytics.

Steve led our experimentation with new analytic approaches and methodologies, including CCL Fusion, a predictive analytics tool that links people data with business data to inform leadership development investment. He also led research and product development in the areas of user-driven feedback tools, virtual coaching tools, and big data and analytics.

John Fleenor
John Fleenor, PhD
Senior Research Scientist

John conducts research and development activities on new and innovative CCL products, including digital leadership tools and AI-driven leadership assessments. His focus is on the future of leadership assessment, and his research interests include strategic 360 feedback, rapid-response personality measures, and digital leadership assessments. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and has taught courses in organizational psychology at North Carolina State University.

John conducts research and development activities on new and innovative CCL products, including digital leadership tools and AI-driven leadership assessments. His focus is on the future of leadership assessment, and his research interests include strategic 360 feedback, rapid-response personality measures, and digital leadership assessments. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and has taught courses in organizational psychology at North Carolina State University.

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About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world — including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.