By Pratap Nambiar for The Business Times

Effective feedback is all about the intention – which is essentially to help improve performance of an individual or a team. Feedback is critical for improving behaviour, but it cannot be done in a critical manner. When is the best time to give feedback? In real time. Right there when you see something inappropriate that has just happened. Waiting for the six-monthly appraisal time is too late.

When feedback is being given, the person receiving it must not feel that you are reacting to something he said and did. You have to come across as calm and composed, without venting your anger or frustration. 

Should the feedback be in private or in public? In a forward-looking organisation that cherishes the culture of authenticity and transparency, it can be done in public. More importantly the culture of the organisation should not have an exaggerated respect for hierarchy. Anybody from any level can provide feedback to anybody at any level. In a more conservative organisation where the egos of the leaders/managers are pronounced and they are not mature enough to handle feedback in public, it is best to offer it in private.

Here are some guidelines.

Be helpful and do it in a positive manner. This is not a time to settle scores or look smart in the eyes of the CEO. Make the feedback about the organisation, not your personal agenda. It must help the person getting feedback to appreciate how his/her behaviour is limiting organisational performance.

“Don’t shoot the messenger of bad news” may convey the point, but “if you encourage people to speak their minds without taking them to task, it will result in more people opening up and sharing bad news early which will help the organisation take corrective measures on time” works better.

Sometimes couching negative feedback with an opening line like “with all due respect” can put a positive spin on things particularly when you are offering feedback to a senior. “With all due respect, Mr Watson, what you have just said is not an accurate rendition of what actually happened.”

Then go on to explain the correct version. Or “correct me if I am wrong… I don’t think your intention was to demotivate the person to the extent that he may not do business with us anymore”.


Be sincere. When feedback is being given, the person receiving it must not feel that you are reacting to something he said and did. You have to come across as calm and composed, without venting your anger or frustration. 

Feedback provided while you are in the grip of a strong emotion will not be received as sincere and in the best interest of the receiver or the organisation. Tone of voice matters, and it has to be perceived as an honest conversation without any malice.


Ask questions to clarify. Often feedback can be given very effectively by asking questions that provide the opportunity for the person to potentially retract their argument or reframe their perspective which when presented initially was not appropriate.

Senior leaders do this very well when their team member is going down the wrong path or making an inference from a situation that is not in the best interest of the organisation. It is not necessary to contradict or invalidate directly, but the questioning process can help the individual realise their mistake.


It must be pragmatic. When providing feedback, we must keep in mind that what we are suggesting should be practical – the person will be able to do something about it. In other words, when they change their stance it must be seen as a visible behaviour change that can be easily observed and experienced.

Telling a peer or subordinate to show more compassion to their team members is not good enough. It is better to ask them not to give work at closing time on a Friday evening and ask for it back first thing on Monday morning. The implication being that you expect they work over the weekend. This then becomes a request to do something specific and differently than what they have been doing and take appropriate action.


Be conscious of culture. If a person in his/her culture is used to being given negative feedback in a very soft and indirect manner, then your direct and upfront feedback can be very disturbing and not taken very well.

On the other hand, if in your culture you are used to giving bad news in a soft and indirect manner, and the person is used to receiving direct feedback without mincing words, then what you have said will just not be taken seriously. It is always best to spell out clearly right upfront what approach you are going to use. You could say: “I am going to focus first on your good points and then I will highlight the really important aspect of development opportunities that you absolutely need to address.”

While we look at guidelines for providing feedback, we also need to look at it from the perspective of those receiving feedback. It is important that we show appreciation to the person providing us the information that will allow us to change our behaviour and make a more positive contribution to the organisation. Being defensive or resenting any criticism because it hurts our ego is not the way to go.

It is important that we are seen as accepting and open-minded, willing to commit to change and do what is appropriate in the situation. In fact, it is best to acknowledge the feedback and thank the provider for pointing out what was obviously something that needed correction.

Any organisation where the culture encourages the give and take of feedback without malice or politics, but with a genuine focus on doing what is in the best interest of the customer or the employees, will result in good decisions, and better interpersonal relationships that will ensure long-term success.

Pratap Nambiar is the the founder and Chairman of Thought Perfect, a company coaching Leaders to transform themselves to meet adaptive challenges. 

This article was originally published in The Business Times on September 17, 2021. 

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