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12 Words and Phrases to Avoid When Giving Feedback

Providing feedback gets easier with time and practice.

The anticipation and lead up to the conversation is typically worse than the actual meeting, so don’t be afraid to jump in and share feedback that will help your friend or colleague improve.

Effective feedback is detailed, timely and intended to help the recipient perform in the best way possible.

In order to ensure that your good intentions are at the forefront, avoid these phrases that may derail your conversation or leave the wrong impression.

1. To be honest…

This phrase implies that there was a time when you were not being honest. It is also regularly a precursor to a surprising piece of information. Simply remove this phrase from your feedback conversation.

2. Actually…

I strongly believe that this phrase has no business in any professional correspondence. It’s jarring to read and hear as it immediately implies that the person on the receiving end has misspoken, missed an important piece of information or is generally an idiot. Remove this single word to change the tone of your message.

3. But…

Avoid buts to keep a conversation positive and to ensure that your message is heard. Evidence suggests that our brains negate the phrase before the word but, so using it during a feedback conversation may mean that the receiver dismisses the important information you are sharing.

Consider how "I don’t think that the presentation was effective, but your slides were very informative" is different from "I don’t think the presentation was effective because you didn’t share the relevant research."

4. Everyone thinks…

Remove rumors and speaking for a group when providing feedback. You run the risk of losing credibility or unwittingly dragging colleagues into a conversation that they are not prepared to enter. Instead, share how the behavior impacts you.

5. No offense…

Just stop here. That’s right, no offense – nothing even resembling offense. If you have to say this term, stop and rethink the rest of the phrase. You have likely crossed a line from feedback to criticism.

6. I’m sure you…

You can never be sure of what someone thinks or knows, and if you are sure, there is no need to say it. This is also a precursor statement to assigning motive. You can only be sure of how something is impacting you. It’s very difficult to accurately guess someone’s thought process or motives behind a behavior so it’s best to avoid this phrase altogether.

7. If you want to succeed…

People succeed in many different ways and you do not get to decide how or if someone succeeds. This is true even for bosses talking to employees. Success looks different to everyone, and this phrase may be seen as threatening, especially if you're giving a review.

8. You should…

It is so much more powerful for someone to come to a conclusion on their own. Help the receiver understand the repercussions of their actions and possible steps forward rather than instructing them on how to proceed.

Consider how happy your best friend or partner is when they "discover" something you’ve been telling them for months. They needed to get there on their own. And coming to conclusions on one’s own often brings more impactful conclusions.

9. If I were you…

You’re not. Unless directly asked what you would do, avoid this phrase.

10. This has been a problem for several months…

Feedback should be given in a timely manner. If something has been an issue for months, or longer, you’ve done the feedback receiver a disservice. Share feedback as soon as you’re able so it’s fresh in the receiver’s mind and easier to adjust behaviors.

11. "Never..." or "always..."

Speaking in absolutes like these may weaken your point. It’s rare that someone always or never does something, so your feedback will likely be immediately dismissed as not credible. You can soften these terms to regularly and rarely,respectively.

12. Be more like X.

Rather than comparing individuals or team members, share concrete examples of behaviors. Outcomes can be achieved different ways and still be effective. Get to the root of a problem by sharing clear details rather than comparisons.

Omitting these phrases will help to ensure that your message is heard and received in supportive manner in which you intend. Remember, it’s not about walking on eggshells during this conversation. Honest and open feedback can help you and your coworkers communicate and develop effectively.


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