How to give feedback and not start the Third World War

In an ideal world, employees keep deadlines, come to meetings on time and receive feedback from colleagues with understanding. But the world is not perfect. Sometimes you have to raise unpleasant questions and make comments that can upset you. How to conduct a dialogue in such a way that a colleague takes criticism not as a personal insult, but as a zone for growth? Recommendations shared Dmitry Malinochka, trainer and training and development specialist at the EPAM Ukrainian office.


In total, there are three steps for developing feedback: preparation, in fact, feedback itself, and a resume. Consider these steps in more detail.


During communication, facts, measurable indicators and accurate observations will be required. Therefore, the conversation should be thought out in advance. To prepare for the dialogue, the expert recommends using the TO ASK and TO TELL LIST forms.

TO ASK LIST – make a list of questions that we want to ask to clarify the situation and the motives of the colleague. When people give feedback, they often tend to draw premature conclusions, sometimes thinking through a situation, and based on this, give advice. Therefore, first of all, it is necessary to clarify with a colleague what he / she thinks or how he can explain his actions in a specific situation.

There are 4 reasons people don’t do anything:

  • I understood the task in my own way: it is not clear to a person why to do what is expected of him. He differently understands the task or does not understand the value of this task at all.
  • Does not know how / does not know: the employee does not have the experience and knowledge to carry out the task in the circumstances.
  • It does not have the capacity or resources to carry out the expected actions.
  • He doesn’t want to. The reasons for unwillingness can be completely different – from personal hostility to the person’s own vision of the solution to the problem.

Understanding the motives of the employee will help to formulate the message in such a way that it is heard and accepted into the work. In addition, in the process of answering your questions, a colleague can come to a solution to the problem on their own.

TO TELL LIST – We add everything that is important to say to this list. When it comes to feedback, it is recommended to record specific facts, measurable indicators and actions of the employee. A common mistake is to use common words in the feedback process. For example: “You conduct interviews well, but don’t hear that the candidate answers you.” The question “What does“ good ”and“ not hear ”mean?” not keep you waiting.

At the TO TELL LIST preparation stage, determine for yourself what it means to conduct interviews well and not to hear the candidate’s answers. Take notes about this, for example:

+ You easily and quickly start a dialogue with the candidate. For example, when you first say that you met to get to know each other, and not to evaluate, this relieves stress.

During the interview you ask questions too often, and the candidate does not have time to answer. You pick up his ideas yourself, and again he does not have time to finish.

It is also recommended to add important details for the dialogue to the list, which are easy to forget about. And most importantly, the goal you want to achieve by providing feedback.

Get ready to form a feedback so that it is connected with the case, and not with subjective impressions. Use the wording “it affects the team this way …”, “it will allow other colleagues …”, etc. Avoid expressions like “do it because you need it” or “I want it this way”.

Think about your behavior as you prepare for the conversation. Especially if you are emotionally charged due to the results of your colleague’s actions. Tune in to create a comfortable atmosphere for perceiving your words. Remember that listening to criticism can be very painful.

When inviting to a meeting, it will be correct to announce its contents, for example: “Let’s meet and discuss the interview that we conducted.” It is important that the employee is safe. Do not scare in advance with negative comments. If a colleague is aware of the content of the meeting, he will be able to prepare accordingly.


In communication, adhere to the following structure of the conversation:

Sound the context. General context: “I want to talk with you about the interview we did yesterday.”

Communication context with the interlocutor: How does this relate to your colleague? “When we conduct an interview with a candidate, it is important for us to understand his thoughts and find out the availability of the necessary qualities. You help in this as follows … “.

Sound the observation. “I am impressed with how you make contact with the candidate. When at first you say that you met in order to get to know each other, and not to evaluate – this removes unnecessary stress. But I noticed that in the middle of the interview you often ask questions that the candidate does not have time to answer. ”

Describe the emotions. “I worry that the candidate is closing and we cannot fully evaluate him.” In this and the previous steps, an I-message is used: “I noticed / I’m worried”. It is important to use the self-message throughout the dialogue to exclude indictments.

Find out the position of the employee. “Tell me, please, do you notice this?” Why do you ask questions so often? ” Give the interlocutor the opportunity to describe the situation, ask additional questions to find out why he / she is not doing the expected actions.

Recall that there are 4 reasons: I do not understand, can not, can not, do not want to. During the dialogue, you can find out that a colleague is confident in his innocence – in his opinion, he does what is required of him, sees something that you do not notice. When you get the answer, you can proceed to the next step.

Ask for a solution. Do not rush to advise communications training or active listening. Ask, for example: “Could you give the candidate the opportunity to speak out and take a more observant position?”. For other situations, the general question comes in handy: “What ideas do you have about what you can do to …”.

Give a colleague the opportunity to express their ideas and assumptions. Based on them, then you can formulate a solution that will be acceptable to everyone.

Together form an interim or final decision based on your expectations, motives and capabilities of a colleague, determine the time frame and arrange the next meeting, if necessary.

Such an algorithm for providing feedback can be applied in any working situations. Based on 4 reasons why people do not do something, some aspects of this step may change:

  • “I do not understand” – find out what is incomprehensible, and help connect the goal with the task. Show how the actions of a colleague influence the achievement of goals.
  • “Does not know how” – perhaps you can teach, organize courses or delegate this task to another person. The advantage of this solution is the absence of a hidden potential conflict, which is useful for further relationships.
  • “Can’t” – try to find an option acceptable to everyone.
  • “Do not want” – it is extremely important to find out the motives of unwillingness. Perhaps the person wants to receive more interesting tasks, and you can connect his needs with yours. For example, select tasks that will better meet the interests and needs of the business and help other colleagues to develop.

Get confirmation. At the end of the dialogue, ask your colleague to summarize and once again pronounce the final solution to the situation. This item will help to understand whether you and the interlocutor understand each other, which means to avoid incorrect expectations.

Follow up

After the meeting, it is important to complete the process, summing up the conversation and the decisions made during it. It is important that the recipient of the feedback do this. Thus, he takes responsibility for decisions made and agreements reached.

Use these general rules to provide feedback and remember that dialogue should be developed, not pushed.

For a deeper knowledge on the topic, you can take a course Giving Helpful Feedback on Coursera or read Sloan R. Weitzel’s book, Effective Feedback. How to shape and convey your ideas. ”

Productive work and strong team relationships!

Original of this text published on the ProHR portal in Ukrainian

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