#275: How to Give Feedback in English: Tips and Phrases for Success

May 17, 2023 | Business Professional English, Communication Skills, How To Develop Skills

Giving feedback is an important skill for anyone who wants to excel in the workplace. Whether you’re a manager providing constructive criticism or a colleague offering feedback on a project, communicating effectively can help you and your team achieve better results. 

When you give feedback in English, it can be challenging to find the right words and tone to give feedback in a professional setting. Moreover, there are cultural differences to consider.

For example, you may worry that giving critical feedback in English is impolite, so you avoid encouraging others to make improvements.

Or perhaps you feel misunderstood by others at work? You give feedback to be helpful but others feel the feedback is too harsh.

Giving constructive feedback is tricky in any language. However, with some practice and a few key strategies, you can deliver feedback that is clear, helpful, and respectful.

In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn precisely how to give feedback in English with tips and phrases that will lead to success.

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How to Give Feedback in English

What Is Constructive Feedback?

Let’s start with a clear understanding of what it means to give constructive feedback in English. 

Constructive feedback is a form of negative feedback that focuses on highlighting areas of improvement in a positive manner. 

The goal of constructive criticism or feedback is to provide clear, actionable, and objective feedback that is beneficial to the individual.

Constructive feedback is not:

  • Unspecific or vague
  • Public
  • Hypercritical, rude, or impolite
  • Personal attack

Constructive feedback is:

  • Specific and actionable
  • Discussed privately
  • Focused on the area of improvement
  • Focused on establishing mutual interest and trust

The Sandwich Method in Giving Feedback

In English-speaking cultures, such as the United States & Canada, the sandwich method is a common method for providing feedback. 

We start by appreciating the good and/or acknowledging the person’s efforts. Then, we highlight the area of improvement before ending our feedback on another positive note. 

The purpose of this method is to help soften the harshness of the criticism and avoid friction with others. 

Ex. Imagine you’re providing a graphic designer with feedback on the logo they created.

You may say, “I like the color palette and the minimal style. To sharpen the design and improve this logo, we should limit it to 2 colors and readjust the layout for more balance. Otherwise, I like the direction you’re going in and can’t wait to see the final result.

However, this method can be confusing to those who are used to receiving direct and straightforward feedback. The positive messages might hide the real feedback.

This method can also be too direct and discouraging to cultures that are used to reading between the lines when receiving feedback.

    So, how can you provide constructive criticism in an effective and meaningful manner, while using the sandwich method?

    While it’s impossible to adapt to every single culture present in your work environment, it is possible to effectively adapt the sandwich method in a culturally-sensitive manner. 

    To do this, we should:

    • Approach feedback as an open dialogue in a safe space;
    • Be mindful of our tone;
    • “Soften” our words and avoid imperatives;
    • And, always end on a positive note.

    Let’s review essential tips and phrases to keep in mind for offering feedback in English successfully. 

    Strategy #1: Establish a Safe Space

    Feedback will never be well-received if the receiver feels attacked, blindsided, or publicly humiliated.  

    Be sure to provide a goal-oriented agenda ahead of time. 

    For example, you might say you’re setting up the meeting to:

    • discuss next steps
    • review the past few months and discuss areas for improvement
    • and/or establish a success path. 

     

    Then, focus on prefacing and ensuring everyone is on the same page to create a safe environment. 

    To do this, the following phrases are useful: 

    • I want to ensure that we all find ways to thrive and be successful in our roles.
    • My goal is to ensure that you feel confident in your skills.
    • I want to see you perform this task successfully and I’m here to support your growth.
    • We’re here to find solutions together and I want to hear your thoughts. 

    Scenario #1: Perhaps, a coworker struggles to ask for help when she needs it. Her previous employer created a work culture where requests for help were seen as a sign of weakness.

    Prior to providing feedback, you may reassure her and say, “Our goal today is to create a success path for you. I want to see you thrive in your role and my goal is to support your growth.

    Strategy #2: Be Mindful of Your Tone

    In other words, focus on using a neutral, unemotional tone to share your thoughts. 

    Remember, your goal is to reassure the other person that you want to help them improve their knowledge, skills, or performance. 

    An accusatory tone will be counterproductive and will likely cause friction. 

    Scenario #2: Imagine a team member struggles with handling upset customers.

    Instead of:
    I see you’re having problems with handling upset customers.”

    Try this:
    I noticed that handling upset customers is challenging.

    In the second response, the focus is shifted to my observation of the issue, rather than the person. 

    Strategy #3: Soften Your Words & Avoid Imperatives

    Scenario #3: Perhaps a new coworker does not communicate her progress. In her old work environment, she may not have been expected to report progress but completion instead. 

    You may wish to communicate that this is not helpful to your team and say, “You must report your progress to the team on a weekly basis. By not doing that, you disrupt the workflow.

    Does that sound harsh and demanding? Regardless of whether or not you expect direct feedback, strongly-worded feedback can disrupt the harmony in your team.

    Instead, focus on eliminating demanding imperatives and soften your word choice: As a team, we work best when we know where each of us is in our progress. Going forward, please share a weekly update, so we can all be on the same page.”

    Strategy #4: End on a High Note

    Don’t forget that we often carry the emotions that we’re left with at the end of a conversation. 

    When providing constructive criticism, it’s essential to reassure the recipient that they are safe, supported, heard, and seen by you. 

    Therefore, it’s necessary to reiterate what they’re doing well and that you look forward to seeing them improve.

    Scenario #4: Imagine a newly-promoted team member accidentally sent the wrong marketing materials to clients. You may use the sandwich method to provide feedback:

    I appreciate that you were quick to communicate with both clients and team members.

    I understand that this resulted from a misunderstanding of the instructions and I want to ensure we work together to avoid a similar event in the future.

    So, I’ve created a short SOP to review. I expect that this will be followed prior to sending out any future communications to clients.

    Please review it and let me know if you have any questions. I have every confidence that you’ll do well in this role and I’m here to support you in any way that I can.”

    It’s time to practice!

    Let’s practice providing feedback for the following scenario: 

    A team member missed deadlines and did not communicate that they were struggling until the last minute. This has disrupted your team’s workflow and ability to complete an important project on time. Keep in mind, your coworker comes from a work culture where a request for help is seen as a sign of weakness.

    Using the sandwich method, as well as the strategies from today’s lesson, share how you might provide constructive feedback.

     You can share your answers — as well as your questions — with me in the comments below. I’ll also add possible answers at the top of the comment section.

    ~ Annemarie

     

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