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5 Tips for Giving Effective Feedback to your Team

Oct 12, 2021
Vanderbilt’s Mark Cannon offers advice from his course on Leadership Coaching.

By Arial Starks

Many organizations are migrating away from annual performance evaluations and instead delivering constructive criticism through coaching and effective feedback. For business leaders, there are ways to ensure positive change and desired results when giving individuals and teams feedback in the workplace. We sat down with Mark Cannon, Professor of Management at Vanderbilt Business and the instructor for Vanderbilt Executive Education’s Leadership Coaching program, who shares 5 tips for leaders to give effective feedback to a team. 


1. Encourage and coach consistently
 In order for a team to respond well to feedback, it is first important for a leader to have already established a pattern of consistent encouragement and coaching. When you need to address an issue with a team member, they are more likely to respond well to criticism if the leader makes the need for improvement centered around the growth and career goals of that individual.

“If you create an environment where people feel you are invested in them and their development and wellbeing, it feels completely different than one where someone feels like you are personally critical of them,” said Cannon. 

2. Prepare before giving feedback

Each team member has a different style of communication, so it is important to tailor your feedback to your team members and ensure it aligns with expectations you set for them and the rationale behind those expectations.

“In advance, consider what it is you are seeing and what specific behaviors are leading to the problem. A good thing to do in business is to communicate the ‘business reason’ why the feedback is important so the recipient doesn’t feel as if the behavior that needs adjusting is a personal pet peeve, but rather a behavior that has a negative impact on the customer,” said Cannon. 

3. Give option to receive feedback
Communication is a 2-way street. No matter how eager you may be to coach someone or give them feedback, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are in the right headspace to receive feedback. By giving your team the option to receive feedback when they are ready and willing to hear it, the message will less likely come across as an attack.

“The stress around feedback tends to be high for both the giver and the receiver, but if the receiver asks for feedback, that significantly lowers the stress for the feedback giver and will lead to the feedback being more effective,” said Cannon. 

4. Give feedback in bite-sized chunks
Avoid information overload to ensure the message is being received. Be direct and specific about what changes need to take place and the means by which they can be made. By giving feedback in small doses over time, the recipient will not be overwhelmed and will more likely implement the positive changes the leader is seeking. 

“Avoid feedback that feels like a monologue or a lecture to the recipient. As a leader, you want the feedback to feel conversational and enable some type of awareness that allows for self-correcting,” said Cannon.

5. Give balanced feedback
Feedback on opportunities for improvement should come with compliments on what a team member is already doing well. If a leader is giving a team balanced feedback, they are more likely to receive positive change and results. By highlighting areas of success and following up with opportunities for improvement, it makes the feedback recipient feel as though you are helping them achieve career development

“Research suggests a ratio of 3 positives to one negative. That way you are reinforcing the good a team member is doing, while also giving an opportunity for growth and development,” said Cannon. 

To learn more about how to effectively communicate and coach a team, click here.


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