Real Time Feedback

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who said, “I love feedback; in fact I need feedback” only to argue with you on every point you made? Maybe you’ve asked for feedback but the only time you get it is when you’ve done something wrong. Or, are you the type of person who shies away from feedback because it causes so much anxiety? In any case, feedback is important. And even though many of us agree that getting feedback is good, giving it and/or receiving it can be difficult.

Good leaders recognize that feedback happens in various ways, times and regarding a host of different topics or issues. Managers who value differences in others, and strive to be more inclusive to those differences, understand that engaging employees requires constant attention. Feedback has to be tailored to get the intended improvement or change. That doesn’t mean you should sugarcoat the message. It also doesn’t mean that you should give feedback for everything you see that could be improved.

When you give feedback is probably the most important consideration after determining what you are going to say. If too much time passes, or you wait until your mid-year or (even worse) your year-end performance evaluations, you will likely miss the opportunity to help someone improve their self-management and impact their engagement with you and their work. Giving real-time feedback is an important skill for managers. Those who do it well have teams that know where they stand, have greater trust, and are focused on doing great work. Here are a few tips for giving real-time feedback:

Assume positive intent – If managers take the approach that the behavior was not intended to be bad or wrong, then they allow themselves to understand and show greater compassion. If a manager’s feedback is given without consideration of the employee’s intent, managers take the risk of shutting down and disengaging them.

Employees should assume their manager is thinking in their best interest. Defensiveness is a common response to feedback, but if you take the attitude that the feedback is intended to help you improve, then it is much easier to accept.

Managers: Think like a coach – Often times, when a key player leaves the playing field, the head coach asks them what they saw out there. The coach takes the feedback from the player and makes adjustments that help the player or team the next time they take the field. Feedback starts with understanding the situation then offering your thoughts on how to improve in a motivating way.

Employees should be given the opportunity to explain what they saw and how that influenced their actions. But if a manager does not give you that opportunity or waits until a later time to discuss your perspective, you will be at risk for not being open to the feedback, or worse, argumentative.

Give positive feedback, too – We are so much more compelled by correcting what’s wrong rather than acknowledging what’s right, so we have to make a deliberate effort to catch people doing things right – especially after you’ve offered earlier feedback on something they did wrong. When employees compliment a manager, we call it “brown nosing.” Wouldn’t it be cool if managers brown nosed employees?

Employees should know that managers often struggle to give feedback. You should feel comfortable telling your manager they did a good job giving you feedback (if in fact they DID do a good job.)

Be discreet and in control – The days of yelling at employees, especially in front of other employees, is long gone. These are NOT the coaches with which I was referring to earlier. Feedback should be conducted one-on-one in an emotionally controlled manner that, above all, shows respect to the employee. In almost every situation, the feedback should be given away from the eyes and ears of others.

If an employee is made to feel embarrassed because the feedback is being given in front of others or with a raised voice and the employee should ask the manager to move the conversation to a different place and time.

Keep it short and to the point – What is the point of your feedback? When you’ve figured it out and you’re at the point of giving feedback, make your point, and then wrap it up with an encouraging comment.

Feedback can seem like it goes on forever when you’re the one on the receiving end. Once you feel as though you understand your manager’s point, nod and let them know you get it. Then apply the advice so that your manager can realize you actually do get it.

Feedback is not criticism – For managers, the difference between feedback and criticism can easily be defined as “tone” and “frequency.” If you have a negative tone to your feedback and you find yourself giving feedback constantly, then you may be offering criticism. An encouraging and compassionate tone is the best way to deliver the message. Remember, it’s not always what you say; it’s how you say it.

Employees should remember that real-time feedback is a gift – that’s why it’s done in the present (ok that was terrible). Seriously, knowing where you stand, how you did, and what to do going forward is something all of us should want. Gretchen Rosswurm acknowledged it in her last blog that “millenials generally expect constant feedback,” and learning organizations realize one of the best ways to engage its workforce is for its leaders to provide real-time feedback in a regular and thoughtful way.

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About the author


Randy Wilson is the Global Leader of Organizational Effectiveness, focusing on culture, inclusion and employee engagement for our global workforce. He enjoys coaching his boys’ soccer teams, playing drums and watching college football with his wife. You can follow Randy on Twitter at RW35.

There are 5 comments. Add yours.

  1. Patrick Dailey says:

    Hello Randy – very interesting comments. One other tip that can be helpful is to ask the feedback receiver if they would like to be given feedback at that time. This sounds a bit unusual and we have learned that timing is important as well as permission to provide others feedback. This is a great way to defer defensiveness. If they say yes then they should be prepared. Keep in mind the feedback receiver can say no in the moment but not use it as an excuse to decline feedback altogether. Thanks for your suggestions.

  2. Kelsey Achenbach says:

    Thank you Randy – this is spot on! Feedback is such an important part of employee growth, and effective feedback builds trust within an organization. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Beth White says:

    Great post Randy! Love the part about thinking like a coach. It really helps people understand how they influence the situation!

  4. Margie Dolch says:

    Randy, thanks for your post. Feedback doesn’t have to be complicated and helps to build trust and good collaboration. Keeping it short and to the point helps steer an employee in the right direction and creates realistic expectations that they (and I) appreciate when I receive it.

  5. Pedro Galicia says:

    Hello Randy, I think feedback is always appreciated if it has the right mix of respect, objectiveness, constructiveness and candor. But not all people accept feedback and this is the most difficult part to make. For me is about finding the right moment and the right place, and try always to make it one on one, face to face. Giving feedback in front of others is not always helpful to the other person. So, these are my two cents. Pedro

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