5 Steps to Giving Honest Feedback That Won't Ruin Your Relationship

Whether you’re a leader or a peer, part of your responsibility is to give people feedback. Having been raised in a culture that often dances around the truth and tiptoes near insecurities, you may lack the skills required to balance brutal honesty with a sense of compassion.

Think about the feedback you’ve been given. Chances are, in some of those situations, the feedback was hurtful. Other times, after the initial sting subsided, you learned a great deal about yourself.

In the best type of feedback, however, you felt respected, safe, and pushed slightly outside of your comfort zone. That’s because the most effective type of feedback is tailored to the individual—making him or her feel appreciated and pointing out where growth needs to occur.

Finding that perfect mix is easier than you think. Here is the simple, five-step way to provide difficult feedback:

1. Start by Telling Them What You Like

For feedback to be effective, it must be received. To help someone remain open to hearing something that he or she may find injurious, you need to start by giving the person an honest compliment.

Challenge yourself to find something meaningful about the person’s work or intention rather than making up something superficial. Bare-minimum effort on your part will have bare-minimum results.

2. Pause and Reflect on Your Own Intentions for Providing Feedback

Check yourself. Investigate your value judgments, hyper-criticism, and perfectionist tendencies. Make sure it’s not your obsessive need for control that’s driving you to ask for change in someone’s performance.

While it’s OK to want the person to continue improving, asking someone to meet the demands of your inner critic is counterproductive. If you can’t live up to that voice that tells you your performance is never good enough, it’s unreasonable to expect someone else to uphold your already unrealistic standard.

3. Say What They Could Have Done Differently

Try taking a more objective approach and seeing the situation for what it is. Provide the person the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he or she did put in effort and didn’t do something incorrect intentionally.

With a sense of calmness, nonjudgment, and non-attachment, show or tell the person what he or she could have done differently to meet your standards.

4. Explain in Detail What You’d Like Them to Do in the Future

Set an intention for the future. This is the moment when you explain exactly what you want and expect from the person next time.

Keep your feedback focused on the work itself rather than attacking the person’s character, which will only breed mistrust and secrets—leading to greater problems in the future.

5. Highlight Their Strengths by Telling Them Something They Do Well

End on a positive note. Instead of simply returning to the first thing you said—something you like—focus on pointing out one of the person’s strengths. A strength is something that goes beyond this one task or event, and translates to all aspects of someone’s work.

Great leaders and inspirational people are able to look beyond the current situation and find the deeper layers of motivation and strengths in others. When you have to give a friend or co-worker feedback, show the person how much you appreciate the value he or she brings, and do your best to inspire the person to work harder in the future.

When people feel respected, appreciated, and challenged to continue growing, they become driven to refine their work and themselves—creating better projects and more enriching lives.

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