How to give feedback to a colleague

The bitter medicine of feedback is not about being nice or positive but about showing commitment and support. Giving feedback will succeed when the subject genuinely knows and believes that you are committed to their success.


How do you give feedback to a colleague or team member? And remember, feedback when given nearly always has something negative in it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be given.

There is a common rule about the “Sandwich Principle.” You start with something nice, you deliver the negative feedback, and you end with something nice. I think that’s completely wrong. It’s not about being nice. Everybody is ready for the feedback they get. What they need to know is that you, who are providing the feedback, that you are genuine and you are committed to the success of the person. You are genuinely committed to the success of that person. If you aren’t committed, then don’t provide the feedback.

What you must establish in the beginning is a trust from the other person, that you really have the best of that person in mind. You can say it. You can say, “I want you to succeed. I want to help you succeed. You are great, and I will help you get greater.” Whatever it is, in whatever way you say it. Then you can quickly deliver the most negative and difficult and sensitive feedback.

I know from many years of experience how difficult it is, but also how good it feels afterwards when you’ve brought up a really sensitive, difficult, complicated, thorny topic with somebody.

When you end, you don’t have to end in a nice tone. You end by setting concrete measures or goals that you are both committed to. It’s not enough for the one who receives feedback to work on improvement. You have to help the person and support the person.

Maybe you do less, but you have to do something. You have to follow up, you have to join in a meeting, you have to do something on your side. Because when you do that, the other person knows that you are very genuine and serious about your feedback. You want the best for the enterprise, the best for that person, and you are ready to invest your personal time. When you do that, the feedback, whether negative or positive, will have a much better effect.

Talking about providing feedback, it has a very short shelf-life. The sooner you can provide it, the better. If you sit there waiting, and think I’ll do it at the next quarterly review, it’s probably too late, and it won’t be credible. So try to do it as immediately as you can. There doesn’t have to be a formal setting or anything. The sooner you provide feedback to people, the more they will respect you for it, and the more improvement they will undertake to fix the situation.

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