Don’t inflate your feedback

Don’t inflate your message. Set the feedback record straight with these actions.

It’s no surprise that people inflate their feedback, especially when the message is critical. To spare others (and ourselves) from blame, discord or even retaliation, we sugarcoat feedback with more innocuous-sounding words and phrases that soften its blow. Telling people their work is “good” or that there’s a “real possibility” for promotion in the future seems harmless enough. But is it?

Not only does sugarcoating create confusion, but it holds others back from identifying and correcting performance flaws. Worse, managers may actually believe that they’re delivering clear and direct feedback even as they sugarcoat it. This illusion of transparency produces even more misunderstanding and strain on relationships.

Setting the message straight

By providing clear communication and expectations, we can help others do better work and develop a stronger sense of growth opportunities. Here’s a few ideas on how to share feedback that’s candid and constructive:

  • Speak without fluff or fuss: Use simple and direct words that others can understand. If possible, provide examples to illustrate your point. Instead of telling a team member that her presentation looked “nice,” be specific about its merits (clean design, visual appeal) and open about its shortcomings (too many words, not enough data).
  • Provide context and connection: Feedback that’s detached from big-picture goals and objectives seems abstract and hard to implement. Connecting feedback to established priorities makes the message more resonant and trackable. When feedback is guided by actionable steps, it stays grounded in reality.
  • Make feedback a habit: As with most skills, practice makes progress. Giving feedback more frequently makes it more accurate, so look for ways to deliver it often. Taking routine feedback reps sharpens our delivery, raises our comfort, and makes it more likely that we’ll actually speak our minds when speaking to others.

The goal of feedback isn’t to make others feel better about their work. It’s to help them do better work. By speaking with more clarity, candor and care, we’ll deliver a message that others understand — and want to hear.

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