How to Give Real Feedback (Without Sounding Like a Jerk)
Work + Life Balance

How to Give Real Feedback (Without Sounding Like a Jerk)

by Griffin Hill
Photos Stephanie Yang | April 04, 2016

THERE’S NOTHING THAT MAKES PEOPLE MORE UNCOMFORTABLE THAN THE REALITY OF THE WORDS “WE NEED TO TALK.”

Criticism is a touchy topic. Some people talk too much, while some people say too little when it comes workplace confrontations. And in all cases, “awkward” is an understatement. But, regardless of your natural tendencies when it comes to dialog, there is a method that everyone can follow to ease the tension.

The first step is to figure out what kind of person you are and how you give and receive feedback. Are you the type to run away from feedback? Do you call in sick on your performance review days and sneak off to the bathroom when your manager is looking for you? If the answer is yes, you might also be the type of manager or coworker who is uncomfortable giving feedback. This is marked by the characteristic to brush uncomfortable situations under the rug until things get “too out of control.”

Or, are you the over-talker, the one people fear? The idea of feedback triggers something in you that makes you feel the need to word-vomit your advice and criticism upon every step of the process. Your coworkers and employees are exhausted by the constant criticism, and your company culture is taking a hit because of it.

Regardless of your natural tendency, here are four easy steps to simplify the process of giving feedback:

START WITH A PRAISE

Nothing breaks the ice like a little compliment. Even if you have bad news to deliver, start by finding something good in the person or situation you are about to disrupt. That may seem like an impossible task, but it will also be good for you to realize that the disaster at hand may also have an upside, even if it’s just a lesson to be learned. The person receiving the feedback will feel infinitely more valued if you open the floor with a kind word.

Confrontations that drag on aren’t good for anyone, so once you’ve explained your intention, it’s time to do what you set out to do: give the constructive criticism.

AIR OUT THE DIRTY LAUNDRY

In my opinion, this is the most crucial, yet most forgotten, step of any confrontation. You can’t move forward in providing critical feedback if dirty laundry is still taking up residence on the floor. If there is a previous ill or uncomfortable grudge that hasn’t been addressed, no compliment will mask the fact that a deeper conversation needs to be had. Before you can talk about the current situation, you need to make sure that all past concerns have been voiced so that there is nothing to cloud the conversation at hand.

EXPLAIN THE WHY

Simple. Straight forward. Effective. Let the person who is hearing the hard truth understand why you are telling them what you’re telling them. This step will also make you evaluate the words you say beforehand and help you determine if a confrontation is truly necessary. If the why is real, the conversation can’t be avoided.

RIP OFF THE BAND-AID

Lastly, just get it done. Confrontations that drag on aren’t good for anyone, so once you’ve explained your intention, it’s time to do what you set out to do: give the constructive criticism. Make sure you are clear, leave room for their questions, and stand firm in your resolve. If you want to make sure that there is no miscommunication, then allow time to put everything on the table. In order to improve the process of giving and receiving critical feedback, we have to change the way we approach the challenge.

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How do you make sure your criticism is actually useful?