The Importance of Feedback

Feedback is important! Clear feedback to one of your team is the best way to establish a constructive and positive relationship. But sometimes it goes wrong. What if nothing changes after the feedback? How many times have you been in this frustrating situation? While there are many reasons why feedback fails to deliver results, one that is easily overlooked is how we deliver that feedback. Do you provide this verbally or in writing? You may be using one particular style not because it’s best for the feedback you need to give, but because it’s most comfortable or most convenient for you.

Giving feedback is hard, and so it makes sense that we tend to play to our strengths. For example, you may be a communicator who thrives on conversation. You’d rather “step into someone’s office” or “hop on a quick Zoom” to go over most things, let alone deliver a thorny piece of feedback. Or perhaps you’re someone who would rather take time to gather your thoughts. You prefer to communicate in a less ‘pressured’ situation and don’t want tension.

But working to your preferred method may not be getting you the best results. In order for feedback to be effective, you need to consider what will work best. Both verbal and written feedback are necessary, and each has their time and place. So here are some guidelines on when to use which type:

Use Written Feedback When:

You have enough time to do it right.
When you deliver written feedback, make sure to include clear and unmissable signposts of warmth, encouragement, or gratitude. Writing is not the place for off the cuff feedback on someone’s performance that could have an outsized impact or come across as harsher than you intended.

You want to reinforce or capture what’s been said in a conversation.
If your feedback involves instruction, next steps, best practices, or other information that the receiver will want to reference again in their work, consider following up with a recap. Here is a good guideline – if you tell someone more than two things, don’t assume they will hold on to all the details. Follow up with a written recap to help them implement everything you want to see from them in the future.

You want to give the other person time to process first. 
People will often hear feedback better in a conversation if they have time to process it first in writing. People often feel better prepared to discuss feedback when given time to digest and think about it beforehand.

Provide Spoken Feedback When:

The feedback is more complex. 
Emails and other written messages are not the best place to negotiate complexity back and forth. Taking time to have a conversation will likely yield better results when your feedback needs to evolve or change, depending on input from the other person. A conversation allows for fuller exploration of the complexity of the issue and thus results in better solutions.

When you need to deliver complex feedback, make your written communication a request for a meeting, perhaps with some questions they should come prepared to talk about. Then once you’ve had the conversation, follow up with a written recap of what you decide.

Difficult emotions are involved.
Whenever emotions are involved, a conversation is probably more effective. And yet we avoid conversations precisely because the difficult emotions are tough to confront. Make no mistake, however: just because you don’t see the other person’s immediate reaction, it doesn’t make it go away. On the contrary, when someone reads negative feedback, they may react even more strongly than if they hear it directly from you and because they may feel even more hurt, they are more likely to misunderstand the feedback and take it more personally.

Your goal is to repair or strengthen the relationship.
Clear and thoughtful feedback can strengthen the bond with your employee if it’s a conversation. This is because good feedback is collaborative. When you take time to listen to the other person’s perspective and work together to find solutions, you can end up coming to a place of deeper mutual understanding.

On the other hand, avoiding the conversation can damage the relationship in ways you might not even realise. When we avoid giving tough feedback, resentment builds up and comes out in ways we don’t intend. Unfortunately, we’ve seen even strong relationships deteriorate because of the decision to avoid giving feedback.

Remember that spoken, positive feedback can be a powerful way to strengthen the relationship. Taking the time to tell someone clearly and specifically what they did well can greatly strengthen mutual appreciation and trust — not to mention ensure that they continue to repeat the behaviour.

Next time you need to give feedback, ask yourself whether the audience will receive it best spoken or in writing. Practicing getting out of your feedback comfort zone when the situation calls for it will make you a stronger communicator all around. All workplace communication, not just feedback, is most effective when we think a few steps beyond ourselves and plan for what the listener (or reader) will feel, think, and do with the information we share.

For assistance and experienced support on your Management/ Leadership skills, get in touch with us at or call us on 0116 232 5231.

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The Tinderbox Team

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