Three Rules for Giving Effective Feedback

Three Rules for Giving Effective Feedback

Giving feedback is critical to developing your people to their next level of performance, but many times it can be painful to both the giver and receiver. In a Harvard Business Review study, they showed that although givers hated to give negative feedback, the receiver found it as valuable as the positive feedback.

Many receivers even welcomed the negative feedback, provided it’s given well. And as that HBR study of nearly a thousand employees both in the U.S. and abroad showed, 92% believed that negative feedback is effective at improving performance—”if delivered appropriately.”

So although a vast majority of managers hate to give negative feedback, it’s important if we want to achieve appropriate behavioral change. It just has to be done correctly. So how is that done?

Experts who coach executives on how to give meaningful and effective feedback follow three fairly simple rules:

  1. Is the feedback true?
  2. Is the feedback necessary? And
  3. Is the feedback kind?

So as long as managers and supervisors ensure that their feedback is unprejudiced, critical, and courteous, it’s fairly certain to be an effective way to help an employee grow. And better yet, it’s supported by existing research.


Although one of the most challenging responsibilities for any leader, it is worth the extra effort to do it right. All the research has shown that employees recognize the importance of feedback—both positive and negative—to their career development.



According to experts, a key to curbing biases is to develop awareness and insight into them. This is one of the hardest to overcome, as we are all either consciously or unconsciously influenced by our own personal biases. When biases come into play, it’s always more about the person giving the rating than the actual performance of the person being evaluated. In an NYU study, it was found that men and women received different evaluations after demonstrating altruistic behavior towards a coworker, even though there was a possible personal consequence. If you want to test your own biases, here’s a test from Harvard on Implicit Association:


Studies conducted at two southern universities concluded that the more feedback a participant received in a management simulation, the lower his or her subsequent level of performance. Performance seems to improve when feedback is given, but only up to a certain ‘tipping’ point, after which, performance significantly decreases.

As a leader, pay attention to how often you are providing feedback, particularly of the negative variety. When you do have to provide negative feedback, make sure that it is measured and rationed.


Substantial research talks about the damaging impact of negative feedback on employee attitude, performance, goal commitment, and satisfaction. This seems to run counter to why employees would want negative feedback, but the answer lies in how feedback is delivered. It has to be delivered in a constructive and respectful way. That coupled with a predominate atmosphere of ‘fairness,’ seems to do the trick for both parties.


If the point of feedback is to change behavior and improve performance, all the research seems to support the three components shown above. And what leader wouldn’t be willing to use these three simple rules, if the outcome was increased productivity and increased revenue?

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