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The 5 W's of Feedback

Feedback in the workplace has developed a bit of a bad rap as a dressed-up version of criticism. Like the noisy cackle that comes from a screeching microphone, it sounds negative, unforgiving, and, mostly, we just can’t wait for it to end.

That’s the fictional version of feedback. The truth is out there, and it’s a good story.

We could go on about “how” for as long as there are different occasions to give feedback. Right now, we’ll start dishing out the bigger picture details of the who, what, where, when, and why.

Who gives the feedback? Who gets the feedback?

If you’re the leader, then that’s you. And everyone else on your team, too.

Be first to give and receive feedback. The ability to share feedback up and down and sideways will benefit all of you and your business. Employees need to know with certainty that their leaders are just as prepared to deal with the tough stuff as they are to share kudos or facilitate a brainstorming session.

Take the lead, set the example, and grow together. Once giving and getting feedback become the new normal, it will be a practical way for team members to work together toward the best collective outcomes.

What is negative vs. positive feedback?

Reframe your ideas if you’re stuck in the good news/bad news camp. Feedback isn’t a rating system that provides a pass or fail. It’s a way to provide information that people can use to shape their future behaviours.

Offering input on how an individual brings value to the team or helps achieve business outcomes helps people understand where they fit into the larger organization. It also lets them know what to continue doing or, possibly, how to raise the bar up even higher.

Feedback about an issue or problem can help employees understand why something isn’t working and you can find a solution to get things back on track together.

Where is the best place to deliver feedback?

It may be tempting to celebrate big successes with lots of fanfare and, conversely, for the “we’ve got a problem, Houston” scenarios, huddle into quiet corners behind closed doors.

The only way to determine the best spot to deliver feedback is to know the people receiving it. While many appreciate—and expect—the privacy or celebration described above, others don’t. For the best reactions (and resulting action), deliver comments where the message doesn’t get drowned out by the circumstances.

When is the best time to say "feedback"?

All the time and at scheduled times.

Feedback needs to be part of regular work communication. Saving it up for scheduled meetings isn’t going to do much for recalibrating an off-track project or replicating a surprise win.

Consistently sharing information to positively impact performance should help to keep conversations flowing. Having structured, scheduled feedback sessions are also helpful for evaluating the bigger picture and planning for future career growth, training needs, and more.

Why would I give feedback if everything is fine?

When we truly care about people, we give them feedback—and accept it in return.

Offering feedback with sincerity and care (and without predicting outcomes or projecting motives) can lead to opportunities for individual, team, and company growth. When you view your conversations as occasions for facilitating growth and increasing awareness, great things can happen. 

Give and get.  

Be honest and direct. Don’t downplay the need for the behaviour change.

Reframing feedback doesn’t mean you need to tiptoe around a bad attitude or work habits that just don’t improve. In doing so, you may help someone identify a blind spot, save them from ongoing career challenges, or open up new opportunities for growth.

And there's always a possibility they'll do the same for you.


Editor's note: The original post has been revised for brevity and clarity.

Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.


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