6 Tips for Giving Better Feedback to Employees

December 14, 2023


Melinta Case Study



Everyone has a different relationship with feedback and how they receive it. Regardless of our level of comfort, the research supports that feedback is crucial to success and growth as leaders, teams, and organizations. Most businesses seek feedback and are eager to use the insight they receive, but miss out on the right strategy, and as a result fail to gain information that is actually worthwhile. There are simple blind spots and pitfalls that when addressed can boost the effectiveness of your feedback.

Avoid these six fails and give better — and more effective — feedback to your team.

1. Overlooking Emotion. People go to great lengths to be productive members of the workforce, but one lesson that is often overlooked is how to handle constructive criticism. At times, the fear of what people are going to say unfortunately overpowers the focus on how to react and process the information. That’s why we train clients to keep “SARAH” top of mind when giving or receiving constructive criticism. SARAH represents the stages of emotion when receiving feedback:

  • Surprise: Employees can be surprised at the feedback they receive and may need time to process or critique what has been presented to them.
  • Angry/AnnoyedAfter the surprise subsides, they may feel that their hard work has been discredited or undermined. 
  • Rationalize: Next, they often will try to explain their shortcomings to themselves and to others.  
  • Acceptance: After sitting with the feedback and understanding where it came from it is easier to accept.
  • Help: Finally, they begin to make the necessary efforts to improve by asking for guidance. This series of emotions is a normal human reaction. No one enjoys getting unexpected feedback that may feel like criticism, but it is a necessary factor in growth and development and is beneficial in the long run.

2. Believing Everyone Can Act on Feedback. When a person is receiving constructive criticism, they have to actually be willing to accept and act on it, and some don’t know how to move past the rationalization stage. For feedback to lead to a positive end result, the recipient must act on it, and may need help getting to the stage of acceptance. Organizational culture and prioritizing psychological safety can play a big role in the adoption of constructive criticism.

3. Asking the Wrong Questions. If you hope to gain the optimal benefits from gathering feedback through surveys, you must make sure you are asking the right questions. Choosing questions that “sound nice” and fill space will likely lead to feedback that holds little to no value. Instead, take the time to inform your questions through research, hiring an expert, and reviewing with multiple sources. This will help confirm the validity of your survey, ensuring that it will provide the exact feedback data you are looking for.

4. Using the Wrong Tools. There are more survey tools and software now than ever before. While added simplicity and accessibility is valuable, these tools sometimes make it more difficult to solve complicated business problems. Commonly used tools can still beneficial, but it is important to research your options first. Careful consideration should be given regarding the intended purpose of your surveying and how you can best utilize available tools to achieve those goals.

5. Not Prioritizing Anonymity. One of the main reasons why feedback strategies don’t produce accurate results is because employees don’t trust the process and believe it can backfire. It is important to minimize concerns by clearly communicating the intention to gain insight rather than to assess anyone’s work quality or ethic. Offering anonymity often eases tensions and presents a low risk associated with honest and frank feedback. Requesting input frequently and consistently will build trust and produce effective feedback.

6. Not Working Both Muscles. There are two sides to feedback, giving and receiving. We recommend thinking of these two sides as two separate muscles that need discipline and exercise to improve. Both sides are essential factors in the effort to pursue the most beneficial results of feedback. If leaders are focusing their efforts in one area and not the other, their strategy will suffer.

Most employees look forward to annual surveys and meetings with their leaders is because it is their chance to be heard. They view it as an opportunity to have a positive impact; therefore, it is important to form a strategy that produces maximum benefits. If you are going to survey your employees, make it count. If you are going to give feedback one-on-one, remember the stages of emotion and what you can do to support each stage. By avoiding these feedback fails you can help create an empowered business environment that can easily move towards growth and innovation.