Mastering the Art of Giving Feedback in the Workplace

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Is giving feedback in the workplace important? How do you give feedback effectively?

Giving feedback in the workplace is crucial to the ongoing development of employees. It helps employees build confidence and identify areas where they need to improve. Effective feedback is ignores the discomfort that comes with telling others they are not performing to the required standard.

Read on to master the art of giving feedback in the workplace.

Receiving and Giving Feedback in the Workplace

Often, when giving feedback in the workplace, people are polite, but dishonest. Their argument is that giving polite feedback is the nice thing to do—but the real motive isn’t so altruistic. In fact, people give polite feedback because it’s easier and more comfortable for them. Dishonesty allows them to avoid the discomfort of telling someone they’re not performing to their standards. 

Giving feedback in the workplace that is dishonest but polite is unkind because it’s unfair—the recipient receives no indication that they need to improve, yet they’re held accountable for their lack of improvement. Moreover, it wastes time and creates frustration as the same unaddressed problems continue to crop up.

The natural remedy to this issue is to start giving direct, honest feedback. Be aware that prioritizing honesty when giving feedback in the workplace might be a difficult adjustment to your team if you’ve created a culture where polite but dishonest feedback is the norm. To avoid having your team shut down or get defensive in response to this new type of feedback, volunteer yourself as the first honest feedback recipient.

Go into this first feedback session with two goals in mind: to model a thoughtful response to hard feedback and demonstrate honest feedback’s productive outcome. You can open the feedback session by asking your team how you can better lead them. They will likely default to “nice and polite,” so be prepared to suggest areas of improvement and ask about their experiences working with you—ask for specifics, and keep pushing until you receive an honest answer. 

When receiving and giving feedback in the workplace, your session should have four parts: 1) be curious, 2) take a step back, 3) question your motives, and 4) share your thoughts.

  1. Be curious. It’s easy to get defensive and push back or shut down when hearing about your problems. Resist this instinct by asking for clarification.  
  2. Take a step back. Ask for time away to think about what’s been said, consider how it’s made you feel, and figure out what the root of the issue might be. Be careful in how you present your need for some space. Many people speed through the discomfort of negative feedback, wrapping up the conversation with a vague and dismissive “Okay, I’ll think about that.” Knowing this, you can avoid sending a dismissive message by clarifying that you want time to think through the problem so you can come back and continue the conversation with your findings.
  3. Question your motives. Ask yourself what could be motivating your behavior—what is the real problem?
  4. Share your thoughts. Come back to the team and share your thoughts. This is an especially vulnerable step—it’s difficult to expose the emotional issues causing your behavior. It would be much easier and more comfortable to put the blame elsewhere, but your brave leadership role is to be as honest as possible. Exposing the root of the problem allows your team to help you think of productive solutions. 

Example: Feedback on Time Management Skills 

Your team tells you that you lack time management skills and that you keep asking your team to accomplish projects on impossible deadlines. You ask them to tell you more about how your tight deadlines affect them and their work, and take notes. You thank them and ask for a follow-up meeting the next day after you’ve had some time to think. In your follow-up meeting, you share your insight: when you set tight deadlines, you are usually feeling anxiety that a competitor will “do it first,” and you are thinking of multiple projects and deadlines that you haven’t communicated to your team. The problem isn’t time management—it’s anxiety and lack of communication. Your team comes up with a solution—when new projects are put on the table, everyone writes down how long they think the project will take and how it should be prioritized alongside current projects. They then share their estimates as a group and create deadlines and priorities that work for everyone.

Giving Feedback in the Workplace: How to Do It Right

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Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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