Imagine that you need to tell someone that you don’t like something that they’ve done. It could be a remark of theirs, a gesture, an act, etc. To use a term taken from the world of work, you want to give them feedback. Not all feedback is about negative things. However, there’s no doubt that this is the most difficult type of feedback to give. For this reason, we’re going to look at some key points for making feedback simpler and more useful, and how we can avoid it becoming a real ordeal for the person on the receiving end.

  1. Choose the right time. We all know that there are some things that we like to get off our chest as soon as possible. However, acting purely on the basis of our short-term psychological needs can have bad medium-term consequences. So, choose the time when you think the other person will be most receptive. This doesn’t mean waiting weeks, months or years. After all, if someone gave you feedback out of the blue about something you’d done ages ago, you probably wouldn’t be too happy about it.
  2. Choose the right channel to use. There are instances of people who’ve put an end to a relationship just by sending a message on Whatsapp. This wouldn’t seem to be the best way to go about doing this, although it’s true that sometimes we act on the spur of the moment rather than rationally. A written message is much colder than a phone call, and is miles apart from face-to-face communication. If the subject you want to discuss with the other person is important, arrange to meet them so that you can look them in the eye when you tell them what you think- even if it’s not a pleasant conversation.
  3. Give information which is actionable. The type of thing not to say is: “I don’t like your way of speaking.” On hearing this, the other person can’t try to change even if they want to, because they don’t know exactly what the problem is. It’s quite a different matter if you say “you speak very loudly and it’s disturbing me.” In this case, the other person at least knows that the solution is to turn the volume down.
  4. Facts, not interpretations. “You’re never happy when I do well’ is the type of feedback which is not very useful. Feedback which is based on interpretations or speculative crystal ball-gazing is among the least helpful that one can give. So, you need to work out if what you want to say is based on observable and undeniable facts or is just a subjective impression of yours. “You didn’t say anything when I was awarded this project- it would have been nice if you had done,” is an example of fact-based feedback.
  5. Avoid using certain words. There are some words which should be avoided at all cost when you give feedback, such as “always” or “never”. “You never take out the rubbish”, “You’re always going shopping” and a myriad versions on this theme are far from useful. The person in question must have taken out the rubbish some time, and they obviously don’t always go shopping. Another word to put in quarantine is “but”. It’s sometimes called the universal eraser because what comes before is completely forgotten. Consider the phrase “You show a lot of initiative, but you’re not a team player.” Most probably, the person who this comment is directed at will only remember being told that they don’t work well with others. It’s much better to use different words to get the same message across: “You show a lot of initiative, and you could make an even bigger contribution if you worked more in a team.” The reaction to this type of message will be noticeably different.
  6. When you do that, I feel…” The type of phrase that deserves a special place of honour in the roll call of mistakes to avoid is: “You’re always running down my friend.” When someone begins with a remark like this, the other person immediately marshals every argument at their disposal to defend themselves. Any feedback which refers to the person rather than to their attitude is bound to provoke a stubborn digging in on the part of the recipient. That’s why it’s more effective to say “you’ve come late” than “you’re very unpunctual”. If you use the verb to be, there’s very little room for manoeuvre. If you’re annoyed by something that the other person does, it’s preferable to deal with the issue using a more inoffensive and effective form of words: “When you run down my friend, you make me feel bad- so I’d ask you not to do it.” Speak about how the other person’s words affect you, and how they can change their way of expressing themselves.
  7. Specific and useful, please. There is a limit to the amount of information that the human brain can cope with. If something about the other person is a problem for you, be as specific and as direct as possible. Don’t endlessly beat about the bush or overwhelm the other person with information which stops them from seeing what the problem is and what they need to do. “The other day when we were having dinner with my friends, you didn’t stop looking at your mobile and you hardly took part in the conversation. I was sorry that you weren’t more involved,” is much better than bombarding the other person with endless details about the dinner. It also helps them to know how they can improve the next time you all see each other socially.


  1. Before giving feedback, look for specific evidence, -that is to say, observable facts- and don’t base what you say on subjective interpretation or hearsay. Base your remarks on what you have observed or experienced first-hand. Think about drawing up a list before you give your feedback, if it helps you.
  2. Think about what sort of mood you’re in before giving feedback. Your words will be much better received if you speak from a spirit of wanting to help the other person, rather than from a desire to reproach them. This is why it’s important to be honest with yourself. And if you’re the one getting the feedback, be fair-minded and recognise the bravery of the person who’s giving it to you. After all, not everyone is interested enough in the other person to provide feedback.
  3. Avoid head-on attacks, using certain words, inappropriate times or channels of communication, and be specific and to-the-point. At the end of the day, after some time has passed, we forget the exact words used but not how they made us feel.


Giving good feedback helps the other person to learn and to be open to other points of view.


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