By Mairead Dillon and Jane Penson, Toastmasters International

Feedback is important to us all. Constructive feedback helps to motivate people, makes them feel valued and encourages them to perform better. Poorly delivered feedback can do the opposite; it demotivates, can foster resentment and at worst turn a productive team member, who just needs a little guidance, into the rotten apple that spoils everyone. So it’s essential to get it right every time.

Mairead Dillon and Jane Penson are from Toastmasters International where giving feedback is an important part of the process to develop public speaking and leadership skills. Members learn to develop the right balance of praise and constructive criticism to help fellow members improve their speaking skills.

With years of experience giving and receiving feedback, and training others to do the same, they have developed these seven top tips to help get it right every time…

1. Make the person feel like a million dollars: The most important part of giving feedback is to thank the person for their contribution and make them feel great about themselves. Praise them for their efforts and let them know you understand how much work was involved.

2. Be enthusiastic: This is your opportunity to empathise and encourage the person to develop and improve their skills. It is not about perfection every time, it is about progress towards a goal. So encourage them to keep trying and never give up.

3. Give specific examples: To demonstrate that you really understand how the person’s contribution added value to the organisation, give specific examples. If you are giving feedback about a written report, for example, say that it provided sales personnel with up-to-date information that helped them towards their goals.

Collect your comments into meaningful sets to make them easier to digest. For example, a writing project could be broken down into: content, impact, structure and accuracy.

4. Bigger picture: Explain to the person how their work contributes to the running of the organisation. This is very inspirational and will often help them to understand how to do the job better. Put simply, if you know what people do with what you send them, you can send the right stuff.

5. Listen when asking for change: If you want the person to change their behaviour, you should give an example of the behaviour you want to change. For example, if the person often arrives late to meetings, give examples of when the behaviour occurred. Point out the ways that their lateness has affected other members of the team or the business as a whole. At this point, allow the person to tell their side of the story. There may have been genuine reasons behind their behaviour rather than a careless attitude.

6. Use a light a touch: Ask yourself if the person's performance was adequate for the purpose, rather than comparing it with how you would have done it. For example, if you are reviewing a piece of writing, think about whether it will do the job it was intended to do. You would have written it differently of course, but be careful only to recommend changes if you can explain why. People can be demotivated by 'red pen', and they will not be able to learn from comments they do not understand.

7. Offer a suggestion sandwich: A successful model for feedback is to start with positive comments about the person’s strengths and successes. Follow this with constructive suggestions about how to perform even better, allowing them to comment and ask questions. Finally bring in some additional positive points and encourage them to feel motivated to introduce the changes you have suggested.

Many people find delivering what they might call “negative feedback” difficult, but by following these suggestions giving feedback can be a constructive and pleasant process for both people. The end result of a feedback session should be that both parties feel they have gained from the experience.

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