5 Feedback Pitfalls to Avoid


If you want to get the best from your employees, mean what you say and say what you mean. Feedback serves as a reinforcement to either continue behavior or change behavior. If you want behavior to continue, focus on authentically enhancing self-esteem. If you want the behavior to change, be direct about what needs to change.

You’ll save time, frustration and energy by avoiding these pitfalls:

  1. Vague or abstractive feedback: “You need to be more professional.” The challenge with this feedback is that “more professional” means different things to different people. It’s subjective. Some people interpret “more professional” as the way they look, while others perceive “more professional” as showing up on time. Instead of leaving people guessing, be specific. “You were late 5 out of 60 working days” or “the dress code requires a suit and this week you’ve been without a suit jacket 3 of 5 days.”
  2. Making it about you: “I think you did a great job.” While this seems like you are focused on the person, saying “I think” makes it about you. Use this opportunity to focus on the other person by saying “you did a great job with _________.”
  3. Sandwiching your feedback: “You are great at using customers’ names. You do need to get better with closing. Overall though, you’re doing a stellar job.”  When you sandwich developmental feedback between two positive pieces of feedback, people hear “but you’re doing a stellar job, so don’t change anything!” Give your positive feedback. Give your developmental feedback. Then talk about an action plan.
  4. Using tentative language: “You might want to change how you’re giving feedback.” People hear might as a suggestion; no need to change if they don’t want to. If you want your employees to change their behavior, it is important to avoid tentative language and be direct. For example, “focus on how you are giving feedback. Here’s an example of what to change ‘_________.’”
  5. Using but or however:  “You were amazing today, but you could have smiled more.” You might as well leave out “you were amazing.” As soon as you add the word but you minimize anything positive you said. Instead, replace but with a period and start a new sentence so that employees hear the distinction.
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