Feedback tips – focus on the situation, behaviour and feedback


As you start out in your career, you are more likely to be receiving feedback than giving feedback, however, as you progress, gaining more experience, you will have the opportunity to give feedback, whether it is to an assistant, the receptionist, or another colleague. You may even be asked to give feedback to your boss.

There is a fine balance when giving feedback. Poorly given feedback can be taken as criticism by the recipient when that may not be the intention. How your feedback is received can impact your day to day relationship with the person. There is also a difference between giving praise and passing on criticism. There can be difficulties if you don’t practice your method of giving guidance, whether it be praise or criticism.

Meet Natalie. Natalie manages a team of early career accountants.  Joe is one of those. Natalie just watched Joe gave a great presentation. Joe had made sure that he covered all of the points which were necessary for the client. As Natalie passed Joe in the hallway outside the meeting room, she said, “Good work, Joe,” and kept going to her desk. Joe knew he’d done a good job with the presentation. The meeting room was buzzing. The client was really happy. He thought that Natalie might be a bit more pumped, but she was clearly busy, so perhaps that’s why she didn’t have time to talk about it. Joe went back to his desk and got on with his day. He remained pumped by his presentation, but puzzled by Natalie’s lack of reaction to it.

In her book, Radical Candor*, Kim Scott provides great insights into having candid conversations. There is a particular example that stays with you, having read the book about the employee who continues to underachieve within a department. The employee’s work becomes so bad that Kim ultimately has to let the employee go. In having a conversation with the employee about why it was best that their role was to be terminated, Kim gives feedback to the employee, and the employee’s reaction is, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

We’ve spoken here, about communicating expectations. If we aren’t clear on what we expect of our team, then our team can never be expected to meet our expectations. If we aren’t clear on the standard of work to be produced, then it is not fair to the employee who was ultimately terminated as they didn’t meet those expectations.

Mastering the art of giving feedback, whether it’s praise or criticism, Kim adopts the word guidance, being key to ensuring both open and honest relationships with your team members, and an aligned team in terms of expectations.

There are many insights to share from Kim’s book, Radical Candor. Kim talks about giving impromptu guidance and the key learnings from her career. Kim tells us we should be humble, be helpful, give feedback immediately, and in person (if possible). Kim also believes in praise in public, criticise in private. Kim advises not to personalise the guidance. More on that later.

Importantly, for this article, Radical Candor sets out some specific advice in terms of a technique when giving feedback. Rather than giving unhelpful feedback or feedback which can be seen as unmeaningful, such as, “Great work,” or, “I’m proud of you,” or, “You’re such a genius,” focusing on the situation you saw, the behaviour, that is, what the person did, whether it was good or bad, and the impact you observed, provides far more effective and meaningful feedback.

Kim gives the example – rather than saying, “I’m so proud of you,” in terms of a presentation, it’s better to say, “In your presentation at this morning’s meeting (situation), the way you talked about our decision to diversify (behaviour) was persuasive because you showed everyone you’d heard the other point of view (impact).  Focusing on the situation, the behaviour, and the impact, allows you to acknowledge that person’s contribution in a meaningful way.

Applying the thinking from Radical Candor, in her role as Joe’s boss and leader, a more effective way for Natalie to give meaningful feedback to Joe would have been to say – ” “Great presentation, Joe, you covered all of the points that the client needed to hear, and I could see that the clients were impressed by what you said and the strategy we are recommending. Well done.” This type of feedback allows Joe to understand the impact of his presentation, not that he just did a great job.

There will be times as you learn to give feedback in your role where the opportunity is missed or perhaps thought of later. In practice, when you are in situations where your team are doing great work, reflect on that work and consider how best to praise them for it. Act promptly and give considered feedback.


* Adapted from Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

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