How to give feedback and inspire your team and colleagues

Giving feedback

Actors auditioning for a role, Bake Off and MasterChef Contestants and most people who’ve ever had an appraisal at work all share something important. They have been nervous prior to performing a task, then relieved that the task was over, and then rapidly become nervous again as they wait for their performance to be evaluated.


Tense, worried and slightly scared is typically how people feel before they are given personally prescribed feedback. For the business owner or manager providing the evaluation, breaking through this emotional blockade can be challenging.  To give impactful and inspiring feedback to your team here are three steps to follow.


  • Opening the conversation

Many people consider cutting to the chase to be a virtue, but when providing feedback, it can often be a misstep. If you immediately deliver suggestions for improvement—while your team member is still in the ‘fight or flight’ section of their emotional Venn diagram—their reaction could be ugly. They could become hypersensitive, perhaps mounting an angry defence that will make them less likely to see the benefits of your advice. Or they could be disheartened and deflated, sinking to a low where they give up all together. Avoid these extremes and other undesirable reactions in between by starting with positives.


Compliment first. Be uplifting and genuine. Total failure in every aspect of a task is rare; there is almost always some part that is praise-worthy. No matter how small it is, highlight it. People can be their own worst critic, so help them to acknowledge that they did something well. Compel them to feel valued. This will make them more likely to be open to constructive feedback. From there, your message has more chance of sticking and being acted upon.


  • Get to the nub

Consider these descriptions of someone’s performance: superb time-management; great productivity; lovely rapport building. They are all great—as headlines. The problem with confining your feedback to these types of phrases is that it does not explain why their time-management was superb, how you are measuring their productivity, or what they did that resulted in their rapport being lovely. If you miss out the detail of why they did well, they can guess exactly what it was they did that was praise-worthy, but they may not guess correctly, and the next evaluation may see you and your team member/colleague wondering why they appear to have gone backwards.


As a presentation skills coach, when I give a speaker feedback it’s important that I explicitly explain why a certain action had a positive or negative effective. For instance, if a speaker smiles during a presentation, I won’t just say “it was great that you smiled”. Instead, I’ll say “your smile was warm, welcoming and showed that you wanted to be here with us today!”. By reinforcing WHY the action was positive the speaker is much more likely to act in that manner again. Thus, providing detail is a crucial part of ensuring feedback sessions are educational encounters.


  • Focus on the ‘how’

Similarly, when you move on to areas where your team member or colleague needs to improve, avoid broad brushstroke assessments. Without explanatory information, phrases such as your time-management needs to improve, your productivity could be better, and you need to work on your rapport building are of limited use. Much better would be pointing out that taking a few minutes to plan a task rather than jumping straight in will see the task completed in less time, or explaining the metrics used to assess productivity, or stressing the importance of eye contact in meetings.


When you are giving recommendations, suggest specific tools, activities or habits that will show how to improve work output, and demonstrate these recommendations, perhaps by highlighting examples of others who have used them successfully. You can make this more powerful if you can draw on personal experience. If making one change—for example, making a list of the day’s tasks; tackling the biggest task of the day first; organising files in a particular way—improved your work output massively, explain what you did and how that had a positive impact. Always recommend with demonstration.


Take time to prepare and consider the emotion that the person you are delivering feedback to may be feeling. Then with these three steps you can give them the inspiring feedback they need to succeed.



Kyle Murtagh is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

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