How to Give Feedback the Right Way

When working as a manager in any setting, non-profit or otherwise, it is important to be able to give constructive feedback effectively.

In my first job after college, I worked as a professional fundraiser. I had a manager who was terrible at giving feedback, and I might almost say that his feedback style bordered on emotional abuse. For him, no matter what anyone did did, no matter what goal they met, no matter how much money they raised, it was NOT GOOD ENOUGH. If I raised $10,000 in a day, he told me to raise $15K. If I did not meet my fundraising goal, it was NOT GOOD ENOUGH, and I had better improve the next day.

I needed to have a more positive attitude. I needed to be happier. If I didn’t reach my daily or weekly fundraising goal, I was preventing my team from reaching their goal, and I was preventing the entire office from reaching our goal. All off this was also communicated in a raised voice, adding fuel to the fire. Furthermore, we all knew that if we didn’t reach our goals, he didn’t get a bonus…

I am sure we all have ample personal experiences learning how NOT to give feedback. I would like to share with you what I have learned on how to give constructive feedback effectively.


1 – Talk about behaviors and share concrete examples

When giving feedback, it is important to think about and discuss specific behaviors. Sometimes feedback can turn personal if you tell someone that they are too shy, not happy enough, or too arrogant. Instead, you could say, “I noticed in the meeting today that you interrupted Amanda when she was speaking about her concerns with the recent proposal. You may not have meant it this way, but it seemed to me like you were dismissing her concerns.”

2 – Ask Questions

When giving feedback, it is important to ask questions. You will show the employee that you care about their perspective and that you respect them enough to list to their side of the story. Asking questions and listening doesn’t necessarily mean that you will change your perspective or feedback, but the employee will feel heard and respected. You could say ask, “Can you tell me more about what went on from your perspective in the meeting today?”

3 – Relate the feedback directly to the employee’s work and professional goals

For an employee to take feedback into consideration, you need to make it worth their while. It must be related to their work or professional goals. I remember at one point getting feedback, where someone said to me, “You don’t need to work on this now because its not preventing you from doing your job well, but down the line, it’s going to derail your career.”

Why would someone actually do something about your feedback if you do not make a case for its importance?

In the situation with Amanda, you could say, “Although I know that you did not mean to seem dismissive of Amanda’s perspective today, that it how the situation was perceived. To be successful in your role and meet your goal of _________________, it will be very important to have a strong collaborative working relationship with her.”

If the situation is not currently inhibiting the work but is still an issue, you could say something like, “In the future, I know you want to do ____________. ┬áTo be successful in that type of role, collaborative working relationships will be very important. I would like to help you practice improving your communication now, so you will be successful in that role in the future.”

4 – Create an action plan together

The manager should show a commitment to helping the employee improve by sharing suggestions, making a plan to check-in regularly on the plan, and giving ongoing feedback. In this situation, you could say, “I would like to support you in working on the way you communicate when you disagree. What are some action steps that you would like to take?”

5 – Never wait until a formal review

NEVER EVER EVER store up your feedback and wait until a formal review to share it. This will cause frustration for the employee for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that likely what you are giving them feedback on is a blind spot. If they had known about the feedback, they more than likely would already be doing something about it.

The second reason is it is very difficult to give concrete examples and talk about behaviors if something has been going on for too long. Because you are no longer talking about isolated incidents but a habitual action, the feedback may sound like it is about them as a person (i.e. you are too shy, your arrogance makes it difficult for people to work with you, etc.).

6 – Most of all, build trust

Last but not least, an employee will be very unlikely to take constructive feedback and do something with it to improve if you have not build up trust with them over time.They need to know that you care about them as a person – their goals, their interests, who they are – not just for what they can do for you.

Employees are much more likely to respond positively to feedback if delivered in a way that addresses the situation, not them personally, gives them a chance to respond, and supports them in their continual improvement. If you approach them with the perspective that everyone, no matter how old or experienced, has areas for improvement, and we are all continually improving our approach and honing our skills, you will be much more likely to to be successful as a manager and a leader.

*Photo provided by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr

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