Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

How to give effective feedback.

Managers recognize that their teams need feedback to improve and be successful. However, many provide this feedback without having a clearly defined way of doing so effectively. Probably the most common mistake made by managers when offering advice or attempting some constructive criticism is turning the feedback session into a one-way speech, delivered from the manager to the performer. The worker finds herself with no opportunity to respond and express her own concerns.

One-way feedback conversations come in two types. The first is the sandwich, where the manager presents the performer with what they did well, then “sandwiches” in negative feedback in the middle, and tops it off with another slice of positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years of “giving feedback” — and it’s a habit we have to break. Remember, if you tell the performer, the conversation is oneway, but if you ask them, it is now moving in two directions.

The second traditional type of feedback is the seagull model, which is even worse. This is a situation where the manager doesn’t attempt to engage the performer — they simply state negative feedback and move on. This is why I liken it to seagulls — they “fly by, poop, and fly on.” You never want to provide seagull feedback.

Feedback must be a two-way conversation with self-discovery by the performer being the first and most critical step.

Effective Feedback

The two-way Effective Feedback conversation has four easy-to-follow steps:

• Ask the performer what she did well.
• You add what you feel she did well.
• Ask the performer what she will do differently next time.
• You add what you would suggest she do differently next time.

Steps one and two build confidence. We need confident team members. Steps three and four build skill. All four steps create a confident, skilled, and engaged team member.

Do we spend an equal amount of time on each of these steps? Definitely not. Different people have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information. Those lacking confidence need more in steps one and two. Those who are very confident but lack skill need more time in steps three and four. But be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in steps one and two.

Effective two-way feedback is common sense. The four steps are not a scientific breakthrough, but they are also not yet common practice. Making them common practice will engage your team.

Once this four-step process is in place and well-embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well-versed in feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic, and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

Kevin Higgins is the CEO of Fusion Learning Inc., recognized by Selling Power as one of the top 20 sales training companies in North America, and as one of Canada’s "Top Small & Medium Employers for 2014." He is the author of Engage Me: Strategies From the Sales Effectiveness Source, available on Amazon. For more information, visit