Giving feedback is never easy, especially if the feedback isn’t entirely positive.
The job of a great leader, manager and boss is to give feedback in a way that comes across as a gift—something useful, not something that makes the recipient feel bad about who they are and what they do.
There are some phrases that are almost guaranteed to carry a lot of negativity no matter how well-intended they may be, and you should absolutely avoid them if you don’t want to be misunderstood. Here are some of the most common:
“If only you . . . ” Using “if only” in any feedback conversation will shut down the recipient’s ability to hear anything that follows. There’s no good place for that phrase to go—“If only you were better,” “If only you were smarter”—and it can never convey anything positive.
“To be honest . . . ” These words are rarely a good idea—those who have to protest their own honesty are often hiding something. But it’s an especially unwelcome phrase during a review. When giving feedback, allow the conversation to come from a place of natural honesty and trust.
“No offense . . . ” This phrase is another one that’s worth eliminating in every situation, not just when you’re giving feedback. As soon as you say “no offense,” your listener knows you’re about to say something offensive.
“You should . . .” how many times have you heard the phrase “you should” and thought to yourself something like “I would if I could, but I can’t so I don’t.” It’s nearly impossible to use you use “you should” without implying judgment. Provide concrete feedback and allow people to come to their own conclusions about what action they should take.
“If I were you . . . ” Bottom line: you’re not. So unless you’re directly asked, “How would you handle this?” it’s best to keep this opinion to yourself.
“Try to be more like . . . ” Comparing people doesn’t make anyone feel good, and it doesn’t achieve the results you want to see. Define the problem by sharing clear details rather than comparing one person to another.
“If you want to succeed . . .” Success looks different to everyone, and this phrase may be seen as threatening, especially if you’re giving feedback for development and growth.
Work to avoid these phrases to help keep your feedback effective. Be clear, be detailed, and be kind, and your feedback will most likely be received in the supportive manner in which you offer it.
Lead from within: When feedback is given well, it shouldn’t alienate the receiver but should motivate them to perform better and be better.
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