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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 fiction version of feedback. The truth about feedback 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. Give it and get it—the ability to share feedback up and down and sideways will benefit all of you, and your business. Leaders need to kick things off, if honest feedback is new to the team. Employees need to know with certainty that their leaders are just as prepared to deal with the tough stuff, as to share kudos or facilitate a brainstorming session. Which means giving—and getting. 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 member to work together towards the best collective outcomes.

What is negative vs. positive feedback?

Reframe the story of feedback 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 helpful to rethink feedback as providing information that people can use to shape their future behaviours. Feedback about how someone brings value to the team or a business outcome can be helpful to understand where one’s role fits into the large organization, and what to keep doing more of, or possibly even raise the bar up even higher. Feedback about an issue or problem can help to gain understanding about why something isn’t working and together, find a solution to get things back on track.

Where is the best place to deliver feedback?

There’s no best place for everyone, but there’s generally a better place for each of us. There might be a temptation to deliver feedback surrounding a big success with lots of fanfare…and for the “we’ve got a problem, Houston” scenarios, to pull people into quiet corners behind closed doors. The only way to know where to deliver feedback is to know the people getting the feedback. While many appreciate—and expect—the privacy or celebration described above, others don’t. For the best reactions (and resulting action) to your feedback, deliver it where the message doesn’t get drowned out by the circumstance.

When is the best time to say “feedback!”

All the time, and at scheduled times—note the “and” —not an “or.” Feedback needs to be part of regular work communication, saving it up for scheduled meetings isn’t going to do much for an off-track project or getting a repeat performance of a surprise win. Reframing that feedback into sharing information to positively impact performance (see above, the “what”) should help to keep the conversation flowing rather than becoming stiff meetings. And on the flip side, having scheduled feedback sessions—like 360s, when employees at all levels receive feedback from colleagues all around them, not just from their direct leaders—are helpful in looking at the bigger picture and planning for future career growth, training needs, etc.

Why would I give feedback if everything is fine?

When we truly care about people, we give them feedback—and we accept it in return. If feedback is done well, with sincerity and care, and without predicting outcomes or projecting motives, it can be an opportunity for growth, for both individuals and the company. View each conversation as a natural outflow of doing business and growing a high-functioning team. When you view your role as facilitating growth and increased awareness / understanding, great things can happen. Above all, remember that you’re interacting with another human being and opening the door for a meaningful conversation.

Give and get.  

Be direct, call a spade a spade, 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. But you may be the one who helps someone identify a blind spot and save them from ongoing career challenges (or open up new opportunities for growth). And, there is always the possibility, they will do the same for you.


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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