What’s the Best Type of Feedback?
How do you give feedback in performance reviews? Are you formulaic and by-the-book, or do you wing it? Is it time for straight talk or do you find yourself dancing around the issues? Do you take a clinical approach, or are you personally invested?
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 can make the difference between a meaningless (or disastrous) review and a constructive 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.
Understand the 4 Types of Feedback
Virtually all feedback can be classified in one of these 4 types:
- attribution, and
- 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.”
- Contingency feedback gives a future consequence: “If you keep interrupting people in meetings, they will stop cooperating with you.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
It’s important to remember that you cannot control how someone feels about, or reacts to, feedback. Different people will perceive the same situation in different ways. You cannot “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.
So, What’s the Best Type of Feedback?
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.
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 will 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,” Wayne Hart, author of our book Feedback in Performance Reviews, says.
“Once the feedback receiver realizes the impact of their behavior, they are more receptive to prescriptive aspects of authoritative forms of feedback.”
When giving feedback, you can use our widely recognized SBI feedback model to clarify the Situation, describe the specific Behavior, and explain the Impact of that behavior. This is even more effective when the SBI feedback model is used to explore intent, making the feedback a two-way discussion.
You’ll be more effective in performance reviews — and in giving ongoing feedback — if you’re skilled at using all 4 types of feedback for the right times and for the right reasons. “The rest,” Hart adds, “is just practice.”
Ready to Take the Next Step?
To give your team more practice in giving feedback, explore our Feedback That Works Workshop Kit.