You’ve seen something in a staff member that warrants feedback and you cringe, because now you’ve either got to step up and give that person feedback or pretend you never saw it and lose a bit of respect for yourself.

Management guru Ken Blanchard calls feedback “the breakfast of champions.”  Organisations around the world have formalised the giving of feedback with annual and semi-annual performance appraisals.

But the hardest feedback to give often happens outside of any formal performance conversations. (Click here to tweet this.)

We’ve all heard advice on giving feedback.  Use the “sandwich method” and nestle negative feedback between two bits of positive feedback.  Make your feedback specific, not general.  Keep the feedback about behaviour and not the person.  Give the feedback as close in time to the actual event as possible.

It’s all good advice, but it doesn’t give you a way to have the complete conversation, from start to finish, in a way that makes it easy for you, easy for the recipient, and increases the chance of changed behaviour in the future.

Here are the complete 7 steps for a successful feedback conversation, from start to finish.

“How do you think you did?”

Always get the other person’s perspective first.  They might already know what they did wrong so you can work co-operatively with them on how to make it better rather than preaching to the converted.

Or they might have no clue anything’s amiss.  That’s why they need this conversation, because without it they’ll make the same mistake again.

“Is it important that you improve?”

This question is the transition from hearing their point of view to getting permission to give yours.  Good team members will want to improve.  An answer of yes opens the door to you sharing what you’ve got to say.

“We’re here to assist you.”

This is you rewarding your staff member for being open to feedback and communicating that you’re giving them the feedback because they’re valuable to the team.  Tell them, “Good.  You know how important it is to us to assist you in being the best you can be.”

“Let me tell you what you did that was good.”

Always preface negative feedback with positive.  This is one of the slices of bread in the traditional “feedback sandwich.”  Be specific about what they did right, whether it was a technique, their vocabulary, or even if their intent was clearly good.

“And what needs improvement is …”

Here’s where you give specific feedback on the behaviour or action that necessitated the conversation.  Never make this about the person and who they are.

“Now tell me what you are going to improve.”

Get clear on whether your feedback was heard and understood.  The added bonus is you’re not asking your team member what they could improve, but rather what they’re going to improve.  You’re getting a commitment to an adjustment in future behaviour.

“Tell me, how will you do this the next time?”

You’re communicating  so much with this question.  Firstly, you’re giving them confidence that there will be a next time.  You’re also giving them the chance to integrate what they’ve just learned.  Visualising how’d they’d do it differently next time locks in the change in your team member’s mind.  It also gives you more opportunity to get comfort with whether your feedback was fully understood.

The bonus step

If you’ve given this team member feedback before that they’ve agreed to in the conversation but haven’t delivered in the real world, follow up with an email thanking them for the conversation and capturing an overview of all 7 steps.  Make sure you take good notes.

So no more need to cringe.  When it’s time to feed your team member the breakfast of champions, make sure they get a meal that fully satisfies.


Debbie Thompson is a leadership coach who combines her years in leadership positions with her love of coaching high achievers to outstanding results.  She works to help managers, leaders and business owners master that “leadership thing” so that they get more clarity, have more impact, and multiply their influence.