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People Management

9 Ways to Give Effective Feedback at Work That Every Manager Should Practice

April 19, 2022
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7 mins

Feedback is powerful for reflection and growth but only if you know how to give it. Here are nine tips for managers on how to give effective feedback.

Linda Le Phan
Feedback is powerful for reflection and growth but only if you know how to give it. Here are nine tips for managers on how to give effective feedback.

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Feedback is a powerful tool for self-reflection and growth for organizations and people. It’s a vehicle for giving recognition, identifying areas for improvement, and providing valuable perspectives that lead to better decisions. 

And employees often crave it. In a PwC study, nearly 60% of employees reported that they would like feedback daily or weekly, and that number goes up to 72% for employees under the age of 30.

How can managers give effective feedback?

Your organization will reap the benefits of a feedback-driven culture if you know how to give feedback effectively. Poorly given feedback can bruise egos, cause misalignment, and stunt learning and growth.

Manager training can guide new managers on how to provide effective feedback at work — these nine tips can make a world of difference in employee performance, morale, and retention. 

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1. Prepare the receiver that feedback is coming

The ideal moment to share feedback is when your recipient is either expecting it or has an opportunity to receive it without feeling rushed or pressured. 

For example, if you’d like to give feedback to a team member on a recent campaign, spend the end of your regular one-on-one to recap the campaign and discuss how it went. Prepare your direct report for feedback by adding it to the meeting agenda or making it a regular expected practice at the end of one-on-ones, rather than sending a few Slack messages out of the blue. 

At Kona, we follow the rose and thorn feedback exercise at the end of our one-on-ones, which categorizes feedback into successes and challenges. Both the manager and direct report expect the conversation, so we can expect feedback and upward feedback as a takeaway from each meeting.

That way, they’re not only prepared for feedback, but the meeting provides them space to receive it — and ask questions — without pressure. 

2. Be specific 

Being vague is a sure-fire way to be misunderstood, and that’s the last thing you want when delivering feedback in an effort to encourage better outcomes. Instead, be specific when you’re delivering feedback by using clear language, providing examples, and sharing why it matters.

Ethan Broder, Growth Marketer at Tuff, finds that managers struggle with being specific with positive feedback more than with negative feedback. In his experience, “positive feedback is limited to ‘good job!’ or ‘nice work!’ These are nice to hear but aren’t actually helpful in recognizing or reinforcing good work habits.”

His approach to ensuring feedback is specific is by answering these three questions:

  • Data: What specifically did my direct report do that deserves positive feedback?
  • Impact: How did their work positively impact the project we’re working on, and why it is important?
  • Question: What thoughts/questions does my direct report have on the feedback given?

3. Seek to understand

There are times when managers mistakenly use feedback to assign blame or make generalizations about an employee. Both are pitfalls you can avoid by practicing empathy and seeking to understand your employee first. 

To put this into practice, ask for your employee’s perspective before sharing feedback and make it a two-way conversation. James Angel, Co-founder of DYL, reinforces the importance of not making assumptions.

“Do not draw conclusions. I would say, before making assumptions about the motivations of another person’s conduct, give them the opportunity to express themselves. Give them the chance to clarify their point of view by framing the discussion as an observation.”

4. Don’t say “but.” 

Another tip for effective feedback is removing “but” and similar words like “however” and “although.” 

When we hear these words, everything the person said before it – no matter how positive – will lose its value and be discounted. A good alternative is to deliver feedback with “and” sentences and offer concrete examples of preferred outcomes or behaviors. 

5. Be direct and to the point

The oft-cited “compliment sandwich” approach advises that you sandwich constructive feedback between two compliments. This applies when you want to soften the blow of negative feedback, but in general, feedback is best when you get straight to the point and keep your message simple and actionable. 

If you’re delivering constructive feedback, get to the point quickly by referring to one clear example and inviting the other person to share their perspective on the situation. Then, you can share your perspective. 

For example: “Jim, I wanted to talk to you about your performance on the XYZ project. I noticed that you made significantly fewer sales calls than your average number last quarter, and I wanted to discuss how we can improve. Can you walk me through your perspective on how you think that went?”

Clear and concise feedback decreases the likelihood of confusion or frustration, and it helps you start thinking about solutions more quickly. 

6. Use growth-oriented language

Language matters in how employees receive your feedback, especially if negative. 

Rather than focusing on faults in your employee’s performance, frame them as areas for growth. Research has shown that focusing on growth rather than achievement stimulates more significant changes in behavior. 

To use growth-oriented language, emphasize your employee’s hard work and effort rather than things they have to “fix.” In addition, incorporate phrases like “improve,” “get even better at,” and “build upon” as you deliver your feedback, which helps show that you credit them for the work they are doing.

7. Provide feedback on behaviors, not the person

Your direct report can improve their behavior but can’t be expected to change who they are. 

Focusing on the person will increase the likelihood that they’ll take the feedback personally. Instead, center your comments around the work itself, share your observations, and use “I” and “we” vs. “you” statements. 

For example, don’t say, “You’re a natural at design” or “You’re the slowest claims processor in the department.” 

It’s better to say, “I appreciate how all of your designs represent our brand,” or “I’ve noticed that it’s taking you longer to process claims since we launched this program six weeks ago. So let’s talk about how to make the process more efficient.” 

8. Close the conversation strategically

The primacy and recency effects in psychology suggest that we remember the first and last things people tell us. That means you need to close your feedback conversation in a way that sets your employees up for success. 

Reiterate the bottom line of your conversation, including any agreed-upon next steps. Then, document your discussion and schedule a future meeting to revisit the topic — this ensures that you have a clear strategy and that something productive results from the feedback you’ve given. 

At Kona, we use Notion as a central hub for documenting these conversations to keep track of progress and reflect on what managers and direct reports can work on. 

9. Make it a habit

Effective feedback is the fuel for your team’s growth and development, and there’s no reason you can’t do it every day. You just need to make giving feedback easy and enjoyable, which is crucial for creating any habit. 

Some ways you can make feedback a habit:

  • Incorporate feedback into every 1:1 agenda.
  • Use Kona to implement daily check-ins across the team.
  • Recognize team members who offer feedback effectively.
  • Ensure your leaders give and invite feedback often to set a good example.
  • Create a #roses Slack channel to recognize great work. 

Jeet Mehta, Co-founder at Sportbookr, makes a valuable point about how vital continuous feedback is, especially in a remote setting. 

“Feedback is a constant process, not just for quarterly or end-of-year reviews. Feedback shouldn’t be something that you surprise your employees with at the end of the year. With the casual cooler conversations no longer possible in a remote setting - be intentional and make time for feedback on a much more frequent cadence (monthly works pretty well). This is key if you’re managing large teams of people.”

How to encourage upward feedback?

It's not only up to managers to give feedback. Employees at all levels can and should offer honest upward feedback so managers can improve. This promotes a well-rounded culture of open communication and empowers employees to find their voice even when not in managerial roles. 

It can be challenging for managers to get honest feedback, so here are a few tips for how managers can encourage feedback from their direct reports:

  • Show interest in their opinions and ask them to share their perspective on specific topics.
  • Use anonymous surveys around topics you think they are hesitant to talk about.
  • When they do offer feedback, acknowledge and take action on it so they feel you are listening.
  • Be vulnerable and own your mistakes, so they don't have to worry that you can't take criticism.

4 best practices for giving feedback

TL;DR, here are essential best practices for giving feedback:

  1. Share it in private, especially if your comments are critical (or might be viewed that way).
  2. Be timely with your feedback, providing it as close to relevant events as possible. 
  3. Make it a regular activity.
  4. Have a face-to-face conversation (or video) to ensure clear communication and catch non-verbal reactions.

Giving effective feedback is an invaluable workplace skill that facilitates positive growth in everyone and everything around you. These nine tips for giving effective feedback at work help you be that supportive force for your team.

Giving effective feedback is an invaluable workplace skill that facilitates positive growth in everyone and everything around you. These nine tips for giving effective feedback at work help you be that supportive force for your team.

Meet the Author

Linda Le Phan

Linda is a Boston-based content writer with 10 years of experience crafting content for human-centric B2B brands. She covers topics like remote work, productivity, recruitment, mental health, and more. Her goal is to promote transparency, empathy, and honest introspection within companies and their leaders.

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