Elizabeth Mills says feedback is an important tool in employee development

Providing feedback to employees is an important part of performance management activities, including appraisals, one-to-one meetings, training, coaching, and even day-to-day exchanges.

The way feedback is given and received can significantly influence the outcome of such interactions. Getting it right can greatly assist the individual with their learning and development.

Feedback can be motivating, encouraging and add real value to development. While it is not possible to ensure feedback is always received well, you can influence the way feedback is delivered and so achieve the best possible chance of ensuring the interaction is successful.

When giving feedback, comment on what went well. While this may be obvious it is still easily forgotten especially when the feedback is spontaneous. When conducting training, coaching or appraisals, it is usual to structure the feedback by offering positive comments first and last with the negative 'sandwiched' in the middle.

Try not to cover too much in one sitting. It may dilute the most important points you are trying to get across. Prioritise the areas that are most important and limit your feedback to those.

Individual limitations
Remember to observe the individuals limits - we all have them. Each individual will be receptive to only so much feedback at one time. Address only the main points. Remember, the personal limitations of the individual may change from day to day depending on their work load, state of mind or personal factors.

Don't assume that because one individual is usually very receptive to as much as you can throw at them that they will be so on every occasion.

Before you offer any feedback, consider its value. We have a tendency to make comments, express opinions and give advice when perhaps there isn't any value to doing so. If there is no value to the feedback, don't give it. It could lessen the feedback you give that is important and worthwhile.

Comment on facts and not perceptions. For example, if you believe an individual was aggressive in a meeting, don't tell him he was aggressive. Instead, try commenting on what you actually observed that led you to think he was being aggressive.

For example: "There were a couple of occasions when you didn't let your colleague finish what they were saying", or "when replying to a particular query you raised your voice" and so on. Then ask the individual why they did that. This will open up the discussion around what they did, how it was perceived and what they could do differently next time.

Following on from the above point, try to describe the situation, rather than pass judgment. Say: "When you shouted I felt quite anxious" instead of "it was a bad idea to shout at him".

The difference being that the first statement can't be denied because it was an expression of how you felt. The second statement could be argued, which then distracts from the issue and can result in a negative outcome for both parties.

Relate all your feedback to specific items of behaviour rather than general feelings or impressions. This helps the individual to relate to and recall certain actions that led to this positive or negative feedback.

As an example: "I liked the way you greeted that customer, offered him a seat and a coffee and empathised with him over his situation" is more useful feedback than "you handled that customer well".

The first way specifies exactly what actions the individual did that resulted in the good feedback.

With the second statement, the individual will know he handled it well, but won't necessarily realise what he did that was well received. If he didn't know what he did right, how can he ensure he will do it again?

Apply a 'self discovery' technique to your feedback style (see box). This involves asking a series of questions by way of helping individuals to find out for themselves, what they did well or not so well. It is where individuals discover for themselves the possible answers or solutions.


  • It involves individuals in the process to the extent that they are actually giving themselves feedback
  • It removes the onus on the line manager to work out what went wrong and what will put it right
  • It probes into the cause of any problem as well as considering what to do about it
  • Individuals take real ownership of the feedback
  • It is a good exercise to learn as eventually individuals should be able to question themselves in the same way and reach conclusions independently
  • It helps individuals to reach their own conclusions as to what will work for them. Remember, people work harder to make their own ideas work.
  • Self discovery starts with the line manager asking a series of questions, usually directed towards an area of strength or weakness they have identified.

    For example, the line manager may feel the individual did not close a sale particularly well and so wants to ask a number of questions to help the individual firstly acknowledge that they did not do this well, and secondly to help find out why.

    Only then can training or other assistance be provided to the individual - when the real need has been identified.

    To summarise, feedback from one individual to another is an important part of learning, developing, improving and general communication.

    It needs to be open and honest yet appropriate to the individuals concerned.

    These suggestions may help provide food for thought and even a different approach to try to assist with developing your feedback style. IT

    ' Elizabeth Mills is a director at The Broker Network

    The self-discovery technique
    1. Ask questions to focus the individual on what actually happened:

  • After you gave the client the price what happened?
  • What was the client's reaction?
  • What did they say?
  • What was the end result (for instance, did they buy)?
  • 2. Probe to identify the cause:

  • Why do you think the client decided to take the details away and think about it?
  • What did you say to invite the client to take out the policy there and then"
  • 3. Gain commitment from the individual at this stage to improving next time. You could do this by asking:

  • Would you have liked the client to take out the policy there and then?
  • Is this something you want to develop?
  • 4. Replay the situation again and ask the individual to think of ways he could close the sale differently, to encourage the client to say yes and buy from them.

  • What different ways/phrases can you think of to close the sale?
  • Which are you most comfortable with? Why?
  • 5. Agree the objectives and allow the individual some time to try out the different techniques.

  • What exactly are you going to try next time?
  • How will you record your success or any further difficulties?
  • What help would you like from me and my colleagues?
  • When shall we review it again?
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