5 Tips on Giving Feedback

Feedback Sandwich

Do you ever get feedback that’s supposed to be “constructive criticism” but feels like somebody’s hitting your ego in the face with a brick?

A friend of mine’s new boss has been giving her feedback. After each bit of “constructive criticism,” she walks away feeling defensive, dirty, and bad at her job.

She might need the information, but she’s receiving it negatively – because he’s giving it poorly.

Here are some tips that he, other bosses, and all of us can use to convey positive information in a positive way:


Avoid the feedback sandwich.

People see it coming miles away. And yet everyone tells you to do it. The formula: positive feedback – constructive yet negative feedback – positive feedback.

The feedback sandwich mixes points of view. Positive feedback comes in the form of, “I think you did a good job with the meeting.” It tends to be from the perspective of the giver.

Negative or constructive feedback is turned around. These are “you” statements. “You need to create an agenda for each meeting.”

But the feedback receiver did the positive things. And the feedback giver is the one who prefers the change!

Skip the messed up feedback sandwich. Cut to the chase with what you really want changed.


Make a request.

Instead of relying on the words, “you should have,” use language that looks to the future. “In the future, would you…?”

This places the point of view where it belongs. You were displeased with someone’s actions. You want them changed. Just ask.

Make it a request. Make it about you. Use “I” statements.

“I got a little confused in today’s meeting. Could I trouble you to create an agenda for future meetings? It would help me a lot.”


Give feedback face-to-face.

Everyone interprets the written word differently. Regardless of your intent, or the number of smiley faces you put in the e-mail, you can bet it’s going to be received incorrectly.

Avoid this altogether and make your feedback request face-to-face.

If you’re acknowledging someone for a job well done, send an e-mail. Kudos are best given written, so the person can file them away in their “win file”. But “constructive” stuff – definitely f2f.

The Meat of the Matter


Avoid accidental feedback.

When someone performs in front of you and you stay quiet, there is a powerful neutral feedback that is understood.

If Susan holds meetings every week, and you attend as her supervisor, no feedback from you means everything is fine. After five meetings you tell her, “you should create an agenda,” and her response will be defensive.

Use “I” statements to make a request. “I usually have other meetings right after yours. Do you mind trying to end on time? It would help a lot. If you need some tips on this, I can certainly help.”


Give feedback immediately.

The longer you let something continue, the more aggravated you’ll grow. Remember, “constructive” feedback for someone else is really about you. Immediately respond to the undesired behavior with the feedback request. This will give guidance in an honest and positive way.


Change the way you think about feedback. Remember the point of views for each type. And if you aren’t getting feedback the way you need it – ask for it.

Like my friend with the feedback-challenged boss, try creating a feedback request to ask for feedback: “In the future, when you give me feedback, could use make them in the form of requests?”

Maybe my friend’s boss can improve his feedback offering.

Share your feedback experiences in the comments.

Note: I learned the skill of acknowledgement in the class that is linked. I hope Mattison will write a blog post on it soon and I’ll link to that instead.

7 Responses to 5 Tips on Giving Feedback
  1. dmonet
    January 18, 2011 | 2:38 pm

    hallelujah!! Can I get an amen on getting rid of the ‘feedback sandwich’? I have had this technique suggested in every management training I’ve ever been in – and I’ve been in A LOT! And here’s the fundamental problem – the people who really need to hear the constructive/negative will walk away feeling great about themselves and their performance. However, your top people – the ones that really strive – will walk away defeated and ‘not hear’ the positive. You need to decide what outcome you really want from the feedback you’re giving.

    • Idearella
      January 21, 2011 | 4:37 am

      I never considered that aspect of the feedback sandwich. Good one.

      Thanks, dmonet!

  2. Jodi Kaplan
    January 18, 2011 | 3:08 pm

    That whole “should’ thing is a big problem. A friend calls it “shoulding all over people.”

    • Idearella
      January 21, 2011 | 4:37 am

      I LOVE IT! And I’m totally going to use it!

      Thanks, Jodi!

  3. The Sister
    January 23, 2011 | 10:51 pm

    This is a great list, and I would like to add to it to make it even greater. 😉 In my experience, change requests are best taken one on one, even if everyone is doing the same thing and it all needs to change. Some may have no issue with the change you request, some may have been doing it because of a personal issue that shouldn’t be discussed in front of others, or some may just plain want to fight you on it. But in the end, if it is a hot topic, you may end up inadvertently airing everyone’s dirty laundry, and making them more resistant. That isn’t to say that all change requests need to be one on one, and it certainly wouldn’t be cost-effective, either. But it is definitely better accepted by the changer to hear the request directly and one on one, and be able to react to it in their own way. So for the hot topics, this method is what I use.

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  5. bel
    January 18, 2012 | 12:58 am

    I have a friend who constantly gives his feedback in a very judgmental authoritative manner and it’s interesting that it can be more detrimental to a situation than constructive. Thanks for this.

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