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How to give feedback using this 4-step framework

July 15, 2022 - 9 min read

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Context

Observation

Impact

Next

Offer suggesting statements

Be conscious of your body language

Start giving feedback like a pro 

Giving feedback can be challenging, especially when you have something critical to say. How often do you ponder over saying something or just letting it slide?

Constructive feedback can help your colleagues improve and enrich the relationships in your team. Consequently, it can bring everyone’s performance to a higher level. However, feedback only works if the recipients are willing to accept it and work on it, which doesn’t happen automatically.

You can use the Context - Observation - Impact - Next (C.O.I.N) formula to make both positive and constructive feedback more impactful. Let's dig into what we mean by leveraging the C.O.I.N. framework — and how to best empower a culture of feedback within your organization. 

Context

Start by identifying the situation. Let’s say that you find one of your colleagues regularly interrupts others and it’s starting to cause friction. Other people have mentioned it — and you want to nip it in the bud before it turns into a conflict.

Give your colleague a reference point: a specific example of when they may have demonstrated the behavior in question.

For example, let them know you're specifically referring to what happened during the team meeting the day before, rather than commenting on their general interactions with others (even though you may have more than one example).

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Observation

Communicate the behavior in a clear and objective manner. Focus on the actions that your colleague took, and not on their personality.

For example, you may say, "I noticed that during our team meeting, you were so excited about the topic we were discussing that you interrupted Mark and Julie several times each."

Impact

Help your colleague understand why you’re commenting on this behavior by describing its impact. The behavior may impact one or several people, or even an entire team. It's important to treat your feedback with care to achieve the desired behavior changes you want to see. 

In the above example, the act of interrupting repeatedly affects Mark and Julie’s contribution to the discussion. It may give them the impression that their contributions are not valued.

It also has an effect on other participants who were listening to Mark or Julie and compromises the flow of the meeting. Think of the big picture, and choose the impact that is most relevant to mention.

For example, the impact is bigger when you talk about the effect on the group. “After you interrupted Mark, the meeting was sidetracked. It would have been better to wait until we had finished the discussion and then plan a new meeting around the point you raised.”

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Next

Now that you’ve got through the difficult part of giving feedback, don’t forget to offer some suggestions of what they could do to improve. As opposed to simply giving constructive criticism, you're giving actionable tasks for the person to improve. What could they do differently next time?

For example: “Maybe next time you could give whoever’s speaking more time to elaborate on what they mean so we can all understand their point of view. This also helps them feel more confident about contributing to discussions. Ask yourself whether what you want to say will build on the discussion or be more disruptive than necessary.”

Beyond the content of the feedback, how you say it is just as important. The way you bring your message across has a significant effect on how it will be perceived, so be sure to choose your language appropriately.

Offer suggesting statements

There are three styles you can adopt when giving your opinion:

  1. In a strong statement: I think that the implementation was flawed.
  2. In a question: Do you think there was a flaw with the implementation?
  3. In a suggestion: I would suggest a few changes to the implementation next time.

Consider what you are most comfortable with, and most importantly the style you think your colleague would respond to best.

Avoid “BUT”

Sometimes it's tempting to say: “I think you did a good job but…” You may think this is softening the blow, but your colleague might be thinking: “what's wrong now?” This can quickly make people become defensive.

When you want to deliver both positive feedback and constructive comments, try to list your points separately. For example:

“First of all, I have to say that you explained the conditions to the client very thoroughly. Nicely done.

Secondly, it would be better if you try to keep the consulting session a bit more focused. I noted a few details that could be left out because they were not relevant in this case. I was lost at times.”

Use the past tense

You want to refer to a specific behavior in the past. The use of the present tense would imply that your colleague demonstrates this type of behavior all the time, making your feedback sound too generic and you might lose your point.

Use verbs

Verbs are better than adjectives because they leave less room for interpretation. For example:

Avoid saying: “You were rude to a client yesterday.”

Rather say: “You raised your voice a few times and used short, snappy sentences with a client yesterday.”

Remember to use the C.O.I.N model so the person understands why that was an issue.

Be conscious of your body language

When you give feedback in person, be aware of your body language. Avoid gestures that might make recipients defensive or anxious.

  1. Don’t raise your voice: You are not angry, you are giving them feedback to help them improve.
  2. Don’t cross your arms: You don’t want to look closed off to conversation and discussion around the feedback.
  3. Don’t frown: You are not there to judge but to provide support. Nonverbal communication can send messages without you even saying anything.

To create an atmosphere of openness, keep a friendly tone and open body language.

Start giving feedback like a pro 

Many people find giving constructive feedback daunting. If you remember to use the C.O.I.N formula, you can ensure you're giving actionable, constructive feedback that will help your peers, manager, or direct reports improve their performance.

With BetterUp, you can provide individualized support for your people. A coach will help guide them through tough conversations, including how to give feedback. BetterUp can help you become a pro at giving feedback for coworkers

BetterUp will serve as your guide to tapping into the power of feedback on an organizational-wide level. Together, we can unlock the potential of your workforce by leveraging feedback mechanisms that work.

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Published July 15, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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