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5 types of feedback that make a difference (and how to use them)

March 16, 2022 - 20 min read

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What is feedback?

5 types of feedback

5 tips for giving any type of feedback

Start giving feedback today

Feedback is a must-have ingredient for any person’s growth journey. 

As humans, we all need feedback to continue to better ourselves and those around us. Without feedback, your employees and leaders are missing out on reaching their full potential. Feedback helps us build our mental fitness. It helps us learn, grow, and try new things.

Employees want feedback. In fact, 65% of employees want more feedback

They want the type of feedback that can drive personal growth and professional development. Feedback that supports skill-building. According to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, an employer’s failure to offer leadership and skills development ranks among the top considerations for leaving a company. 

Yet, many people, many managers, are uncomfortable giving feedback. Many avoid it. They don’t want to be negative or judgmental of others. In fact, over a third of managers feel uncomfortable giving feedback to employees. 

While many people may think feedback is always critical, that’s not the case. There are plenty of types of feedback. And different types of feedback serve different purposes. But in the end, feedback — when expressed correctly — is hugely valuable. 

Good feedback provides the information you didn’t have. It lets you see yourself or the situation differently.  Feedback that helps you be more effective is a gift. Remote work makes feedback even more valuable and important.

“Arrogance leaves us blind to our weaknesses. Humility is a reflective lens: it helps us see them clearly. Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses.”

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, author, Think Again 

In this article, learn about the different types of feedback. Find out how you can use different types of feedback in your organization — and why feedback is so beneficial. 

What is feedback?

Feedback probably shows up in your organization more than you think. 

For example, your team member might recommend a new process that would help save your team more time. Or, your leadership team might congratulate your hard work after a successful quarter. 

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Or perhaps you’ve had to have a difficult conversation with an employee. You notice this employee isn’t meeting your expectations. So, you decide to have a conversation to reinforce roles and responsibilities

All of these scenarios encompass a type of feedback. A common misconception is that feedback is negative or bad. 

At BetterUp, we think of feedback as coming from a place of care. Feedback can be a sign that someone is personally invested in your growth and development. And with support systems like coaching, feedback can be the key to unlocking human potential

Much like there are different types of feedback to give and receive, anyone can give feedback. Let’s learn more about who can provide feedback. 

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Who can provide feedback? 

When you hear the word feedback, who is the first person that comes to mind? Chances are, we’ve all thought of someone in our personal and professional journeys. 

Feedback can be given by anyone — a friend, colleague, partner, family member, boss, teacher, and so on. We are all receiving feedback all the time from the people around us — if we’re paying attention. But feedback is most useful when it is normalized, high-quality, well-intentioned, and close to the moment or event. 

In the workplace, we tend to see feedback come from these folks: 

  • Team member. Peers can provide feedback regularly in the workplace. For example, I work alongside a teammate who regularly reviews my writing. She provides recommendations, feedback, and ideas on how to improve.

    Peer-to-peer feedback is critical for any healthy working relationship. When done right, it can help create and build trust. It can also increase innovation, collaboration, and creativity
  • Manager. When I think of the word feedback, a manager is the first type of person that comes to my mind. In my career, I’ve never had a manager that didn’t express feedback — and that’s a good thing.

    Feedback can be common for the manager and employee relationship. But it can also be tricky. You might receive constructive feedback privately in a one-on-one meeting.

    But you might receive positive feedback and recognition in a public team meeting. There’s a lot of variety in the manager-employee feedback relationship. Because of the nuances, employees and leaders alike can find this challenging to navigate. 
  • Customer. Customer feedback is essential for any organization. According to Forbes, 77% of consumers view brands more favorably if they seek out and respond to customer feedback.

    Without customer feedback, products and services are likely to remain stagnant. How do you know if you’re meeting your customers’ needs? How satisfied are your customers? Do you have opportunities to improve your business from customer feedback? 
  • Leadership team. Your leadership team plays a key role in the feedback process. Oftentimes, their feedback will be much more high level.

    For example, your CHRO might notice in recent candidate interviews that there’s miscommunication. She may identify an opportunity for better communication. Or you might hear positive feedback from recent executive roundtable discussions. 
  • Coach. Your coach is your compass, your North Star, your cheerleader. But a coach wouldn’t be a good coach without feedback. Coaches often provide feedback that supports reflection — they reflect your words and behaviors back to you in ways that help you see where you are inconsistent or ineffective.

    My coach has been so helpful in providing valuable feedback, especially when it comes to the workplace. She helps reframe perspectives, pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and helps me navigate different situations. But at the heart of all this is feedback. 

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What are the 5 types of feedback? 

Different types of feedback serve unique purposes. Let’s start by looking at what types of feedback you can use in your organization. 

Now, let’s talk through some examples of feedback — and how they can be formative to your company culture. 

Constructive feedback 

Studies show that while constructive feedback is perceived as negative, it’s what people want. In fact, 92% of employees believe constructive feedback can improve performance.

Let’s say your employee John has missed a few details on some recent projects. At first, you let it go. You know John is juggling a lot of projects right now. But as some projects taper off, you still notice these same mistakes

In your next one-on-one meeting, you decide to raise these mistakes. You start with what you’ve noticed he’s doing really well. But then, you provide some constructive feedback about the trend of mistakes. Then, you close with positive feedback. This method of constructive feedback is referred to as a feedback sandwich

You ask John how you can support him and guide his development in this particular area. He expresses gratitude for the feedback — and decides that he needs some professional development. 

If an employee asks for feedback, they typically mean constructive feedback. Listen closely and try to discern what specifically they want feedback on and to what depth. Clarify if possible. You don’t want to waste hours preparing an in-depth critique of a new product when your colleague merely wanted your input on the marketing plan.

Upward feedback 

Upward feedback is when managers solicit feedback from their direct reports. It’s an important aspect of feedback that isn’t always encouraged in some organizations. 

But if we know anything about the employee experience, it’s that employee voices need to be heard. By encouraging managers to ask for feedback from their employees, you’re helping to enable a culture of feedback. It can create trust, psychological safety, and real change. It also gives employees some agency in their work, work environment, and relationships. 

For example, let’s say Julia manages a team of four people. Julia’s fairly new at managing a team — and this particular team was recently developed. In Julia’s one-on-one meetings with each of her direct reports, she decides to ask how she’s doing.

Two of her direct reports give her some feedback. They think Julia could do a better job of communicating the purpose of their projects so they can better understand the objectives.

Another direct report recommends a new project management software to help make their jobs easier. And lastly, another direct report expresses that they’re overworked and stressed out. They have a new baby at home and are juggling caregiving responsibilities with an increased workload. 

Without this feedback, Julia would never have known how to meet her employees’ needs. She’s glad that she asked for feedback. But she’s also grateful her team members felt psychologically safe to share their honest feelings. 

Appreciation and recognition 

Feedback isn’t always negative, contrary to popular belief. Employee recognition and appreciation are key factors in engaging your employees. Organizations that regularly recognize and appreciate their employees show better performance, better relationships, and higher job satisfaction. 

For example, we recently wrapped up our fiscal year at BetterUp. In a meeting, our CEO recognized all employees for their outstanding contributions to BetterUp. He personally called out team members by name, celebrated successes, and thanked everyone for their work. 

Coaching feedback 

Working with a coach is one way to help unlock potential through feedback. Coaching feedback is a unique, collaborative approach. With a coaching mindset, employees are paired one-on-one with a coach. The coach serves as a guide for the employee, not a threat. 

It can feel threatening to any individual to receive feedback. The imposter syndrome can creep in. Insecurities can feel overwhelming. You might spiral into automatic, negative thoughts like: “Will I lose my job?” or “I’m never getting promoted now that I’ve received this feedback.” 

But with a coach, you’re helping to create a safe place for your employees to solicit feedback and ask for help. The coach is immediately a teammate. In fact, we’ve found quantifiable improvement across a variety of areas from folks who receive coaching. Our Members report improvements in these areas: 

  • 90% reduction in stress
  • 149% increase in resilience
  • 181% improvement in focus
  • 130% increase in job performance

As an example, let’s say your employee Sally has been having some difficulty working with another colleague. Sally is generally averse to conflict and would regularly see if she could work around this person. But in this situation, it’s simply not possible. She’s looking for some guidance and feedback on how to approach conflict resolution

This is where BetterUp can help. With coaching support, Sally is able to have an open, transparent conversation with her colleague. She realizes her colleague wasn’t trying to make things more difficult.

Her colleague simply didn’t understand the goals of the project and her role in this workstream. But with coaching, Sally was able to find a resolution and ultimately finish the project successfully with her colleague. 

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Real-time feedback 

Real-time feedback is another type of feedback that can be useful for in-the-moment scenarios. With new performance management tools at our disposal, it’s becoming easier and easier to provide feedback — good and bad — in real-time. 

For example, let’s say Hal recently completed a website redesign. He’s worked on it for months and finally was able to launch the new site. Upon launching the new site, various colleagues start pinging Hal on Slack. “The site looks so good!” and “Great work on the redesign, everything looks fantastic!” 

However, there’s one small bug that another colleague catches. A button isn’t working properly to download a demo of the product. Hal is grateful for this real-time feedback to fix the bug.

After all, could you imagine if no one shared that feedback? Or if this feedback wasn’t shared until Hal’s next one-on-one with his manager? 

5 tips for giving any type of feedback

Get comfortable. It’s time to start giving (and receiving) feedback. Here are five tips to get started.

  • Pause and reflect on the goal of your feedback. Do you want to see a behavior change? Do you need a quick fix on something? Are you looking to improve a relationship? These questions can help guide you to the right type of feedback you’d like to provide. 

  • Lead with empathy and kindness. No matter what type of feedback you’re giving, you need to lead with empathy and kindness. Feedback is a sign of care.

    You care deeply about the success of the person to whom you’re giving feedback. You care deeply about seeing them reach their full potential. That person should know and feel that care and compassion
  • Be clear and direct. Have you ever been in a situation where you’re receiving feedback but you’re not quite sure on what? Same. Clear, direct, and concise communication is key. It’s important to get to the heart of the matter quickly and directly. But make sure you offer the time and space for the person to absorb. 
  • Listen carefully. It’s probable that the person you’re giving feedback to might have questions. Make sure you listen more than you speak. You might learn something new about the way this person approaches a project.

    Or you might have a miscommunication or misunderstanding of expectations. But you won’t get to the bottom of anything without listening. Practice active listening and make sure your employees know that you care about their perspectives. 
  • Offer support. Depending on the feedback you give, you will want to offer some sort of support. This could be professional development in the form of virtual coaching. Or it could be a learning opportunity, like an online course or workshop. Or it could simply be another follow-up meeting to help clarify expectations and answer questions.

    Whatever the case, offer your support and reinforce your desire for their success. By doing so, your employees will feel valued and cared for. 

Start giving any type of feedback today 

Effective feedback doesn’t have to be negative feedback. Feedback also shouldn’t be reserved for just performance reviews. And feedback for coworkers can be the difference between thriving and surviving. 

In the absence of feedback, people will tend to fill in the gaps themselves — often in ways that are not helpful. Don’t create a vacuum for your employees’ worst interpretations and anxieties. Let them know what you think, especially when working remotely.

There are plenty of forms of feedback to choose from, each with its own purpose. Whether you’re struggling with employee performance or conflict resolution, feedback is important. 

Good feedback is a learning process, one that takes practice. Providing feedback isn’t easy. But with the right support — like coaching — your organization can model evaluative feedback well. 

Practice goal-setting around how you’re providing feedback to your teams. It can be informal feedback or more formal feedback. But remember, we’re all learners in this process. Keep your growth mindset open and aperture wide. 

Any kind of feedback can help you and your organization grow. And with BetterUp, you can unlock human potential and help your employees live with more purpose, clarity, and passion.

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Published March 16, 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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