What Not to Say When Giving Feedback

giving feedback

Are you giving bad feedback?

Giving effective feedback is one of the most important tools that an organization can use in its daily operations. When done correctly, feedback offers opportunities for improvement, increased production, and greater efficiency. However, if done incorrectly, feedback can lose its benefits and even become counterproductive.

But when you are faced with giving feedback to individuals, how do you know if you are doing it incorrectly or if it will be beneficial to the person receiving the feedback? In their article, Actionable feedback: Unlocking the power of learning and performance improvement, Mark Cannon and Robert Witherspoon offer five characteristics of flawed and counterproductive feedback. The characteristics that they present offer a well-defined guideline of what not to do when giving feedback to others.

1. Attacks the person, rather than the person’s behavior

Feedback that is focused on the person instead of a specific behavior does little for helping that individual improve. If it fails to address a behavior of any kind, the comments align more with gossip observations than actual feedback. Doing so is more likely to make the individual defensive and less receptive to this or future feedback. Additionally, if you don’t focus on an actual behavior, they won’t have a launching point for improvement, which is arguable the main focus of feedback.

2. Vague assertions

If you give feedback without detail and only include vague assertions, you make it more difficult for the receiver to interpret what you are saying. When you are vague, they may take the feedback in a different direction than you intended, which would mean that they are not improving on the area in which they need improvement. Additionally, if it is vague, they may become more defensive, especially if they view it as false because you were not clear enough about what you mean.

3. Includes no examples

Feedback without examples or illustrations makes the feedback unclear and possibly even unnecessary. If you cannot think of an example for why the individual needs the feedback, then you probably should not be giving it the individual in the first place. As with any strong argument, you need supporting evidence to validate what you are saying. Without examples, your feedback may be unclear or untrustworthy.

4. Unclear about when it happens

When you are giving feedback, you need to be sure that you are defining when the problematic behavior exists. Is this something that happens all the time, or does it only happen under certain circumstances or in certain situations? In order for the person to improve their behavior, they need to know in what situations the problematic behavior is occurring

5. Unclear about why it is important

If you want an individual to improve in a certain area, you will need them to understand why it is important that they improve. What are the consequences and implications of their wrong behavior? Is it harmful to the team or to the company? Once again, if you can’t define the importance, then giving the feedback probably isn’t all that important. Know the consequences of their behavior and make that clear when you offer them the feedback.


Next time you are giving feedback, ask yourself if it contains any of the above characteristics. If it does, tweak your feedback before giving it to the intended individual. Before giving feedback, you should get in the habit of checking to make sure it does not contain any flawed characteristics. Doing so will help to ensure that your feedback is beneficial, productive, and worthwhile.