Giving feedback in the workplace is a crucial skill for leaders. Performance reviews, counselling, rewarding, behaviour adjustment are all part of a leaders role in managing a team. The feedback sandwich, SIB and 360s are some of the tools and models used to walk this tightrope.

Giving feedback in the workplace requires you as the leader to get involved – some leaders see it as a discretionary task, one saved for annual reviews or when serious problems arise.

There is a delicate balance when giving feedback. At the centre of all feedback are two opposing human needs:
• Our need to learn and grow as a person
• Our need to be accepted just the way we are

Balancing these two opposing needs can be challenging for the person giving the feedback and the person receiving the feedback. We’ve all heard of the horror stories of feedback that’s gone wrong and the consequences; resentment, disengagement and anger.

So how do we walk this fine line to give feedback that allows our leaders to grow while ensuring that we accept them, their unique traits and some of their flaws?

Addressing problems and offering more praise

Giving feedback in the workplace is often required for two main reasons. Addressing problems or offering praise. While one of these feedback practices may come naturally to you, it’s unlikely that both of them do. The Work of Leaders research project analysed these two skills. Leaders were asked to rate how well they do with each of these practices with some interesting discoveries. First, leaders are more than twice as likely to see themselves as very good at “giving praise” as they are at “addressing problems.” Furthermore, in the WOL analysis, fewer than one in twelve leaders claim to excel at both feedback practices.

Usually a leader is good at one and not the other. They find it easy to offer praise but may find it hard to provide critical feedback. Or they are good a critical feedback but saying “thanks” is too ‘gushy’ The best practice in driving task accomplishment and engagement lies on the right hand side of the below two continuum.

Addressing Problems

Addressing problems comes easy to some leaders, they roll their sleaves up and show some tough love leadership when required. In fact, some people actually do enjoy criticising and calling others out. School kids have a name for this: bullying. And be sure, if candor is done recklessly it kills transparency and improvement. For others it is tough. It means disrupting the harmony of the workplace. Many leaders want to avoid confrontations or hurt feelings, they don’t want to interrupt the flow of progress. It’s easy to understand the temptation to smooth it all over.

The goal in addressing problems is to develop a culture of candour, transparency and trust. A culture where modelling the right way to point out problems and give corrective feedback can be done in an open, productive way. The skills and behaviours in setting up a culture are higher level and require open communications, emotional intelligence and trust.

Many leaders I work with also find it hard to structure problem solving feedback. They are too forceful and use blaming descriptions of behaviour that is threatening to the person receiving the feedback. Others are too submissive and code, hint, and give ‘fluffy’ feedback that the receiver finds hard to interpret and to understand. Assertiveness models help in this area. Some of these models are listed below.

Offering Praise

Praise and reassurance, It might feel a little pathetic to say out loud or even admit it to ourselves, but more of our motivations, relationships and insecurities are driven by this simple psychological need than any other. We want to know that we have worth as people and that others accept us.

When people feel valued by their leader and their group, it becomes a part of them. They internalise the group’s goals and their work has meaning. Conversely, when people don’t feel appreciated, they slowly remove themselves from the group emotionally. Generally, I find leaders fall into two categories here – leaders where offering praise comes naturally and they are good at it. Others who don’t recognise that people need to be recognised (“I pay them, why do I need to thank them?”), and those that find it difficult to find ways to provide recognition (I don’t have a suite of ways to recognise my staff).

The other complicating dimension is that reward and recognition is an individual equation – some people like public recognition others prefer more private praise. The type of reward will have different types of meaning. The personal assistant I meet last year that was award an overseas holiday after receiving the employee of the year. Great work but she does not have a passport and hates to fly.

It’s important that you don’t assume that people know you appreciate their work and its important that you don’t assume the best way to give recognition – both take work. Find ways to celebrate milestones and build recognition opportunities into your day to dayn planing. Recognising the offering more praise is important as part of the feedback process, some tips for doing so are listed below.


Our ability as leaders to be hands on when it comes to addressing issues and to reward and recognise our teams is a key to engagement. Your behavioural style, values and workplace experience will drive your behaviour in these areas. An understanding of your own natural strengths and behavioural development will be important to the development of your own leaders role. Workplaces need leaders that are multidimensional, leaders that are emotionally intelligent enough to address problems and who can also offer praise and are comfortable in proving genuine positive feedback. Our ability to undertake these behaviours will ultimately be a lead factor contributing to team and organisational success.

Tips for addressing problems

• Develop an open culture where candid conversations are encouraged. 365 feedback – feedback every day of the year.
• Decide if the problem really does need to be addressed or if you need to alter your expectations (don’t sweet the small stuff)
• Clearly identify what the problem is (is it about missing a deadline or is it really about letting the team down and damaging their reputation?)
• Use assertive communications and models that may be helpful to provide structure
o “I” statements. I see, I feel, I want.
o Feedback sandwich (Positive, negative, positive) Sometimes controversial if you ‘flower’ negative feedback with positive feedback that masks the negative. Don’t make up positive feedback if there is none
o SBI – Situation, Behaviour, Impact – describe the situation, the behaviour that you are concerned about and what the impact this behaviours has on your or your team
o Be solution focused – ask for solutions first rather than telling problems to test self-awareness. Focus on the solution (or problem) and not the people

Tips for offering praise

• Reward behaviour that you want more of
• See it and say it
• Be specific
• Get in early
• Get the rewards right – develop a list of rewards suitable for your team and individuals
• Be a fly on the wall – notice what employees do
• Keep it simple – It’s often the little things that make a lasting impression (a personal note, a thank you card, applause etc)
• Develop a recognition profile for your team members
• Note key dates and facts – birthdays, start dates, partners name, children’s names
• Identify favourite things – hobbies and interests, coffee or tea, books and movies, pet peeves. Use these things in your reward suite
• Identify ways to reward – preferred style of praise, develop a reward and recognition ideas list