Feedback: when, why and how?

Feedback can be valuable. Feedback, information about the effects of our behavior, can help us become better at what we do. By definition, we ourselves have only a limited view of the effects of our actions. Other people look at what we do from a different perspective and can therefore see different things. In addition, they may have more or different knowledge and skills, so that their feedback can be extra instructive for us. Whether these positive effects of feedback are realized, however, depends on what the feedback is about and how effectively the feedback is provided. But when do you give feedback and how do you do it effectively? Read more about that question below.

I. When is it useful and legitimate (and when not) to provide feedback at all?

  1. If you want to stimulate further growth and progress in the other person
  2. If you want to prevent any further damage from ineffective behavior by the other person
  3. When, given your role and task, it is appropriate for you to be the person to provide feedback
  4. If your trust base with the other person is good (this is especially important if you don't have a hierarchical or functional mandate to provide feedback).

II. It is often helpful to provide positive feedback on the person's efforts and progress. When can it also be useful and legitimate to give negative feedback?

  1. When the other person probably doesn't know what he/she is doing wrong. Giving negative feedback can inform the other about the discrepancy between the expectation and the current behavior or results, so that the person can focus on improving this so that any damage can be prevented and progress can be made
  2. When the person is already highly competent and well motivated and eager to hear where further improvement opportunities lie.
  3. When you present the negative feedback effectively: Negative feedback does not appear to damage intrinsic motivation when:

  • the feedback contains an instruction on how to improve the behavior,
  • the feedback is based on a clear performance standard,
  • the feedback is given personally.

III. Some rules of thumb for giving feedback

  1. Focus your feedback on the process and behavior rather than the person, attitude, or traits
  2. Give positive feedback: focus your feedback on progress already made and explain what is good about what the person is doing
  3. If negative feedback is necessary, base your feedback on a clear performance standard and explain how it can be improved
  4. Give negative feedback sparingly and if necessary give it yourself (personally) to the other person and indicate how it can be improved
  5. Use informative feedback phrases such as: “If you do .., you are more likely to succeed at ..”

  • Fong, C.J., Patall, E.A., Vasquez, A.C. et al. A Meta-Analysis of Negative Feedback on Intrinsic Motivation. Educ Psychol Rev 31, 121–162 (2019).
  • Stacey R. Finkelstein , Ayelet Fishbach, Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 39, Issue 1, 1 June 2012, Pages 22–38,