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The Thinking Cap


Delivering Feedback in the Workplace

Article prepared: 26 March 2014

Feedback is the biggest driver of performance we have available.  But sometimes feedback is difficult to deliver, especially when it is for a person that may become defensive.  It is important to know how to provide feedback to others correctly, without causing offence. Do you provide feedback as often as you should, in the best way possible?  Read more to find out how you can develop your interpersonal skills to give feedback more effectively.

Feedback should not be viewed as a negative process, but rather as a strategy to improve the performance of both people and the organisation.  As you may already know, feedback can be a powerful tool to encourage goal accomplishment, influence behaviours, and help improve morale.  It can also increase employee engagement, working relations, and productivity.  Without allowing opportunities for feedback, employees may be unsure of what is expected from their performance, and the workplace can get caught in a place of uncertainty. 

Unfortunately, not all feedback is easy to deliver.  Many people are often reluctant to provide feedback, because they fear retaliation.  In the same way, if the feedback is not delivered correctly, it can be received as a personal attack or discouraging. 

So it’s no secret that most of us are afraid of feedback, because sometimes it is unpleasant and hard to accept.  But what if it is YOU that needs to deliver feedback?  What if the feedback is negative and the person receiving the feedback has a tendency to become defensive?

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario

Jack, who is one of your employees, has worked in the office for nine years.  He knows a lot about the workplace’s systems, but tends to keep to himself.  For over a month now, you have observed that Jack regularly shows up late to the office, takes lengthy lunch breaks, and is often out the door before everyone else.  Although you have had no past performance issues with Jack, you know that he will get angry and defensive if you approach him.

How would you deliver feedback to Jack?  Use the tips below to help you.  By improving your interpersonal skills you can deliver feedback to Jack correctly, without eliciting negative reactions.

PLAN what you are going to say 

When possible, you can overcome the fear of giving feedback to Jack by planning the conversation.  This also helps you to avoid making mistakes during the feedback discussion.  Before providing him with feedback you can practice conversation openers, being polite, and clearly stating your point. If you’re still not sure of what you want to say, it might be helpful to consult with the Human Resources team before the talk.    

COMMUNICATION is everything

During the feedback discussion, it is important that Jack sees you as receptive, attentive, and interested in what he has to say.  You can do this by:

  • being clear and appropriate in what you say (i.e. clearly stating your point and being polite)
  • being assertive (i.e. respecting and caring for your own needs, as well as the needs of Jack)
  • being sincere and honest
  • being sensitive to Jack’s and others’ feelings
  • calmly arriving at a solution
  • avoiding gossip and judgemental language

Besides, Jack might have a good reason for being late – we need to find out what those reasons are.

TIMING is important when delivering feedback  

You’ve already waited over a month to give feedback to Jack!  Waiting this long to have the conversation is likely to be ineffective, and can negatively affect Jack’s commitment, motivation, and attitude.  Giving feedback as soon as possible will have a greater impact on changing behaviour.

ASSESS your own emotional state

Given that you’re quite frustrated with Jack’s tardiness, it might be best to not give him feedback in your current state of frustration.  There are many situations where you will need to provide feedback for inappropriate actions, but it is important to be aware of your emotional state - especially if it is likely to lead to an unpleasant interaction with your working relations. 

FOCUS on the issue or action, and not the person

Telling Jack that he is lazy or incompetent might cause him offence, and he will most likely overlook his poor performance.  In the same way, telling him that he is a really good worker, without specifying his actions, will probably discourage him to perform higher.

LINK the issue or action to the impact that it will have on the person, team, and organisation

It is important that Jack sees how his actions are having an impact on all levels of the organisation.  You need to help Jack understand that his tardiness is putting stress on other employees who are required to cover for him, lowering the team’s morale, and causing a loss in productivity for the overall organisation. This will ensure that the feedback process with Jack is a fair and non-judgmental one.

IDENTIFY a successful solution

When providing feedback to Jack, it is important to address the areas where he needs to improve.  This might involve providing him with positive behaviours to improve his actions, or even discussing a plan for correcting his actions and improving his performance. 

HELP the person

If Jack lacks the confidence in his ability to perform as required, you should offer some helping suggestions.  This can be in the form of additional training, coaching, or mentoring.  In the same way, everyone else in the workplace needs to be clear on what appropriate performance should be - to avoid any feelings of uncertainty and frustration. 

EXPRESS confidence in the person

After having the feedback discussion with Jack, use the time to express confidence in his ability to improve performance.  This can be in the form of establishing an action plan, or setting up a timeline that specifies when you would like information about his progress.  This will help to improve his morale and encourages his goal accomplishment. 

How can PSB Solutions help?

PSB Solutions understands human behaviour and performance improvement in the workplace, like Jack’s situation, and recognises that feedback isn’t as easy as it may seem.  PSB Solutions can assist your organisation by customising feedback tools, strategies, and skills development programs that can be utilised in helping your organisation deliver effective feedback. For more information, or if you would like to have a discussion about what you’ve read today, please contact us on (08) 9489 3900 or email us.

Recommended Readings

Taylor, J., Jenkins, J., & Barber, L. (2013). Breaking bad (news): Some constructive criticisms of performance feedback.


Watkins, T. (2010-2012). Giving constructive feedback. 


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