When I first began my career, I was convinced that the best way to give feedback was sit someone down, and like Frank Costanza at Festivus, tell them all of the ways they had disappointed me. Needless to say, I was not a popular, or an effective manager.

I, like a lot of young leaders, had developed the hard skills required to do my job, but I hadn’t yet developed the soft skills required to do it well. It took the President of the company sitting me down and coaching me on the proper way to give feedback. He did it in a way that kept me from being resentful, defensive or embarrassed, yet pushed me in the right direction with encouragement to get better. The formula he gave me is as follows:

Begin With The Positive

This is not the sandwich style of evaluation that puts one negative between two positives in the hope that the person being evaluated doesn’t get their feeling hurt. This is realizing that reinforcing good habits is every bit as important as correcting the poor ones. By being able to state the positive aspects of whatever we are giving feedback about, we are highlighting the things that they need to keep doing, and keep consistent with. Catching people doing something well is great way to ensure that they continue to do so.

I rarely mentioned the good things that people did because I thought they already knew those and that they needed to be told what they were doing wrong. This approach did nothing to build a foundation for improvement. By beginning with the positive, that’s what we’re doing, building a foundation.

State Areas For Improvement In Relation To Potential

No one likes to be told they aren’t doing something well, but we’re much more receptive to being told the things we need to improve in order to be our best. Stating our areas of improvement in relation to our potential is a way of talking about the things that are holding us back from achieving the performance we really want.

When the President of my company talked about how bright my future was, I paid attention. We all like to hear how great we are. When he told me that the biggest thing holding me back was the way I criticized employee performance, he told me that the only way I could reach my potential was learn to give constructive feedback. This was an eye-opening experience because he wasn’t “airing his grievances”, he was helping me get what I wanted. This made all the difference in the world in the way I received what he was telling me.

Give Encouragement To Try Again

Not all performance appraisals are going to be nice. Sometimes we need to hear things that we aren’t prepared to hear, but if the person delivering the feedback isn’t at the same time encouraging, the chances of a change in performance are slim.

This actually goes in line with my earlier point of putting feedback in relation to potential. Letting someone know that they are valued and respected is a crucial step to winning compliance. Encouraging the person we’re evaluating to try again and do it better is the best way to conclude a feedback session. It puts us in the position of coach rather than dictator and can be the difference in someone actually reaching their potential. 


Of all of the important skills that we can develop, being able to effectively deliver feedback is one of the most critical. Doing it well takes courage, compassion and discipline, but this is an extremely cheap cost when compared with improved performance.

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