People often have a hard time talking to each other directly. And, when it involves work and performance, the challenge is doubly hard because we have to tell someone that his or her results or behavior aren’t up to par, that they need to improve in some way.

I’ve been in many different work situations, and I’ve seen some people who are excellent at giving feedback, and I’ve seen many who aren’t. So, to get at the point rather directly, here are Five Feedback Principles for you:

“¢ Give feedback as close to the situation that you’re referring to as possible. It’s more meaningful that way, and will likely have more impact than if you wait.
“¢ Begin by asking the other person how s/he thought the task or situation went. You’ll be amazed at how many times the person will ante up some issue that s/he acknowledges needs improvement, making your job in giving feedback easier.
“¢ Whether the person mentions anything that needs improvement or not, always give positive feedback before you give negative feedback, if at all possible. You’ll find this can help the receiver feel less defensive.
“¢ Be specific – vague feedback is meaningless and confusing. Give the receiver examples of what you’re talking about.
“¢ Be open – rather than just dump feedback on someone else, ask if there’s anything you can do or change to improve the situation.

In general, approach feedback as an opportunity to reduce confusion, to help the work go more smoothly, and as a chance to learn something about how you can improve, too. You’re there to help, not to hurt, and you can make what might be a toxic encounter into an opportunity to improve work and improve relationships. Not a bad pair of goals, eh?