"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a regular feature that focuses on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

I attended a leadership development program some years ago that has had a lasting impact on me. The program included a 360-performance review—where feedback is solicited from your boss, your peers and your team. As the facilitator prepped us to receive our reviews, she explained that we should view feedback as gifts from people who cared enough in wanting to help us become better leaders that they were willing to risk causing some hurt feelings.

Feedback IS a gift. We are often oblivious to some of our faults and thus likely to repeat the same behaviors again and again. That is, unless someone cares enough—and is skillful enough—to deliver effective feedback that helps us to improve.

WHY You Should Be Giving Feedback

People give lots of excuses for not providing feedback, but many of them boil down to being conflict-averse or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. Studies show that most of us crave feedback, even when it's critical. No one likes working in a vacuum in which they are not sure their work is being recognized or is satisfactory. Most people welcome praise for their hard work and good results.

If you are avoiding giving feedback because you don’t want to upset the other person, or fear they may become angry or defensive, know that providing regular feedback can help avoid conflict. You can resolve small problems before they become large ones, align perspectives before they diverge too widely and course-correct before a project goes off the rails.

Further, isn’t it the job of managers and supervisors to help their organizations achieve their objectives? That requires employees to perform, and if they are not performing well, they need to know not only how they are falling short but how they can improve. That’s where effective feedback comes in.


Real-time is preferable. Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close in time to the actual performance or situation as possible. Storing up a lot of feedback to then unload on someone later, say at a year-end review, is more likely to result in defensiveness and hurt feelings. And you may have missed several opportunities to keep the problem areas from getting worse.

Ask first. Ask if now is a good time, which can be as simple as, “Bob, do you have a minute? I’d like to give you some feedback on that report you gave this morning.” If the person says now isn’t good, then agree on a time soon. The purpose of asking is to make sure the person is in a frame of mind to be open to the feedback you need to deliver.

Set your intention. Check in with your own emotions first. If you are angry or frustrated, you are more likely to deliver the feedback in a way that is not constructive. It also never hurts to remind the feedback recipient that your intention is to help them improve. This sounds like, “Bob, I appreciate the effort you put into creating this new report. I have suggestions for some changes that I believe would make it even more useful.”


Deliver it in private. Feedback is usually best delivered one-on-one. The recipient will be more likely to acknowledge responsibility instead of making excuses. They can also ask for help or clarification without being embarrassed.

Be specific, tactful and factual. Whether the feedback is positive or constructive, it’s important to clearly state the facts about the performance, such as: “Sarah, you have arrived late to work by more than 20 minutes on four days out of the past two weeks.” Note that the tardiness is described in detail and there is no speculation as to why she is late.

Don’t dilute your message. You may have heard of the “feedback sandwich”—where the feedback provider gives constructive/critical feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. It’s an approach that’s not without its critics. If you have critical feedback to deliver, make that your focus.

Clarify or reinforce expectations and goals. To continue the above example with Sarah, this looks like, “It is important that you arrive on time every day to open the office, so we don’t keep members waiting who are coming to the service desk. Your designated working hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

Offer your support. In our example with Sarah, this could look like, “You have always been punctual in the past. If there is a temporary situation impacting your morning schedule, let’s talk about how we can work through that.”

I hope you found this article to be a “gift” for improving your future feedback conversations. Want to learn more? Here are some additional resources on giving effective feedback:

Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 29-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions, then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education, Training & Events in 2012.