Many people shy away from giving constructive feedback because they fear conflict. And while many are quick to praise for a job well done, few do so in a meaningful way. In this session, you’ll learn a simple and effective four-step method (called “BITE”) for giving feedback. We’ll practice strategies for accepting both compliments and criticisms gracefully. By the end of this workshop, you’ll be confident coaching up, down, and across your organization. What’s more, you’ll be ready to seek out more meaningful feedback to propel you forward in your career.
Many people view giving constructive feedback as an odious task. Those who revel in it … well, who wants to work with those people? There is a happy middle: the caring and genuine coach who really wants to see others put their best foot forward. So, you know, be that guy by learning and practicing the skills outlined in this article.
Author’s note: For the purposes of this article, I will use the terms constructive feedback and redirection interchangeably to mean “feedback intended to discourage an observed behavior.” If you want to learn about giving positive feedback, I’ve got you covered.
Why is giving constructive feedback important?
Most of us are doing the best we know how to do. Yet we only know what we know, and we only know it from our own perspective. Often, we don’t do something a better way simply because we don’t know a better way exists. This is why I like the term “redirection.”
Other times, we may not realize the negative impact our behaviors or words are having on others. Personally, I don’t like repeating mistakes or being less than effective; most people will say the same thing.
Finally, if you are in a management role, your success is dependent upon the success of your team members. You owe it to them, and to yourself, to be that caring and genuine coach so you can all step up your game.
When should I give someone constructive feedback?
Always provide feedback in a private setting. Ask permission before giving someone feedback, unless the person has specifically asked for feedback or you have already established a trusting relationship. If you are a supervisor or mentor, you have a responsibility to provide objective, constructive feedback. I would also argue that you have a responsibility to give feedback to your coach, mentor, and manager!
In any case, you earn the right to give constructive feedback by having provided affirmation (see instructions here) to the individual in the past, usually at a 2:1 ratio or higher.
Alright, fine. I’ll do it. How does this work?
I propose a four-step method, which I remember with the acronym BITE:
Begin by specifically stating the person’s words, actions, or behavior that was detrimental or ineffective.
“I noticed you were struggling to stay awake during parts of the presentation today.”
Next, describe the impact that choice had (or that it failed to have a positive impact). Bonus points if you can give the person the benefit of the doubt.
“It created the impression that you aren’t interested in the training.”
Provide a better alternative for “tomorrow.” Remember, this person probably did the best they knew how to do.
“Next time you notice yourself getting sleepy or zoning out after sitting for too long, please get up quietly and stand in the back of the room. You’ll not only appear more engaged, you’ll be better able to pay attention to the speaker.”
- Encourage (or Enforce)
When appropriate, reinforce (because you’ve hopefully already established) that you want to see this person succeed and that you have confidence in their ability to do so.
“We have a long week of training ahead of us, and I’m excited to see how you will apply these new techniques to your design initiative.”
If the behavior is completely inappropriate and unjustifiable or if it recurs despite multiple discussions, it may be time to work with your Human Resources department to determine disciplinary action. That step is beyond the scope of this article, so I’m going to assume that your colleague is having an uncharacteristically rough day… Let’s move on.
While immediate feedback is typically best, there are some exceptions:
- If you or the other party are upset, or if you can’t articulate all four components of the BITE model described above, wait until everyone is calm and you have collected your thoughts.
- Before you give constructive feedback or redirection, be willing to explore your motives – honestly and objectively. If your aim is anything more or less than a genuine desire to see someone else succeed – if you have any selfish interests at all – you may need to walk away from the situation entirely.
Practice This Skill
For one week, write down BITE-style redirection as you notice areas where you might be able to help someone else be more effective or efficient.
At the end of the week, ask for permission to provide some of the feedback directly. You can say something like, “I’m trying to improve my leadership skills. Could I practice by giving you some feedback on your presentation last week?” (You don’t have to speak in italics, though.)
Giving redirection can be scary, but I promise that it gets easier each time you do it. If you’re not ready to try it, practice giving positive feedback for a few weeks first!
Have you ever been told “good job!” after you’ve finished a task or assignment? I hope you have. I’m sure you have. You probably felt good about the comment for the moment, but did you really know what you did well? Giving positive feedback or affirmation to others in the workplace (and in our personal lives) is important, but not many of us do it well.
Author’s Note: For the purposes of this article, I will use the terms positive feedback and affirmation interchangeably to mean “feedback intended to encourage an observed behavior.”
Why is it important to affirm effective behavior?
Most of us have a very vocal internal critic. We see ourselves through the lens of our own insecurities. It’s often said that we “compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides.” Getting feedback about what we’ve done well helps us gain a more balanced view of our skills, behaviors, and performance. Most important, though, is that when we know we’ve had a positive impact, and we know what we’ve done to get that result, we can choose to continue the behavior.
When should I give someone positive feedback?
Always provide feedback in private first. If you want to give public recognition of someone’s effort or impact, ask them first if they are comfortable with your doing so. In a work environment, I also recommend following up with the individual’s manager when feedback is positive.
Alright, fine. I’ll do it. How does this work?
I use a four-step format for feedback. For positive feedback, the steps are Behavior / Impact / Tomorrow / Expand (BITE). This format allows you to give clear, specific, and actionable feedback to reinforce effective behaviors.
Begin by specifically identifying the person’s words, actions, or behavior that had a positive impact.
“Your preparation for the meeting today was very thorough, particularly your research on brand awareness.”
Next, describe the impact the person’s choice(s) had.
“Your quick answers made a strong, positive impression with our client.”
Explicitly state that they should continue this behavior “tomorrow” or in the future.
“Next time we meet with the client, I’d like for you to duplicate that level of research and analysis.”
If you are the individual’s coach, mentor, or manager, I suggest giving them a stretch goal in this step of the process. Be careful, though, not to create more work for the person every time they do something well. That is called punishment, and most people learn to avoid it.
“You should share your research process during the intern training program.”
Vague praise is not particularly helpful or actionable; hyperbole tends to embarrass the person we seek to affirm. In fact, research, research, and more research suggests that praise of someone’s identity (“You are so smart!”), rather than of their effort or behavior can actually do more harm than good.
Practice This Skill
Practicing the BITE format with a live human will help you develop this essential leadership skill. Positive feedback is almost always well received — especially if you time it right (see above) — so use this opportunity to develop yourself and delight others!
Set a daily or weekly numeric target for providing positive, BITE-style feedback. Record your successes (and missteps) and observations along the way. Once you’ve mastered this skill, move on to giving constructive feedback. Think of it as “leveling up.”