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GIVING FEEDBACK – SWEET OR SOUR?

Feedback is an effective communication tool because it is based on fact and observation. The author defines feedback as “telling people on a regular basis how they are doing in relation to the expectations and goals.” This communication should focus on helping employees meet their objectives.


Feedback should be given immediately after observing a certain behavior, and it should be done face to face, or at least voice to voice. By giving feedback on a regular basis, a collaborative relationship builds and becomes a stable characteristic of the work environment.

Managers should choose positive words when relaying feedback and convey them in a nonjudgmental tone. This ensures employees feel respected and are aware of what is important to the organization. Managers should be aware that feedback and stated expectations are inseparable. Without clearly stated expectations, employees may operate incorrectly while assuming they are on the right course. Without feedback, employees can only guess whether or not they are achieving expectations.

Carroll identifies two types of feedback that managers can give their employees: positive reinforcement and redirective feedback. Positive reinforcement rewards behaviors that managers would like to see repeated. It also satisfies a basic human need for approval that a paycheck alone cannot satisfy. Carroll offers a five-step process for delivering positive reinforcement feedback:

  1. Precisely state the goal, standard, performance expectation, or desired behavior.

  2. Describe the observed behavior in relation to the goal.

  3. Identify why the behavior is important.

  4. Ask that the behavior be repeated.

  5. Thank the employee.

Redirective feedback, on the other hand, lets an employee know that they must change their behavior in order to more closely align themselves with the goals of the organization. Managers should discuss this with the employee as soon as possible, as employees oftentimes have no idea they are not meeting the expectations of the organization. Managers need to be careful when delivering redirective feedback; if delivered poorly, it can appear angry and damage the relationship. The manager should be as collegial as possible and demonstrate his or her intention to help the employee succeed. Managers should follow a five-step process for delivering redirective feedback:

  1. Precisely state the goal, standard, performance expectation, or desired behavior.

  2. Describe the observed behavior in relation to the goal.

  3. Explain why the behavior demonstrated is not effective and how it impacts the efforts of others.

  4. Ask for the employee’s view of the situation, since the manager may not have a complete understanding.

  5. Ask the employee what steps they will take to meet expectations in the future.

In both situations, feedback should be directly linked to the goal that employees are supposed to achieve. Feedback should be done on a specific, case-by-case basis, and the manager should avoid using generalizations such as “you always” or “you never.” Facts should always be referenced, since feedback is not about the person but about their behaviors.

Giving effective feedback has numerous benefits aside from addressing the specific behavior. First, fears of the unknown are mitigated, as employees know they can count on feedback on a regular basis. Employees are encouraged to persevere when times get tough. In addition, relationships based on collegial feedback avoid blame and keep everyone focused on their goals.

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