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Employee feedback examples: the good, the bad, and the ugly – and how to give effective feedback


Employee feedback examples: the good, the bad, and the ugly – and how to give effective feedback

NOVEMBER 16, 2020

At the 2012 SHRM conference, we asked HR pros to share with us some samples of the "good, bad and ugly" feedback they've seen managers give their employees over the years. Here are a few of the sample feedback comments they shared with us:

  • You were a much better worker before your mom got cancer.
  • Hey Kiddo. Great job. Excellent presentation. Save it on the share drive... But that's not what I was looking for...
  • You need to become a dynamic speaker!!
  • You're used to managing elephants; you need to learn how to manage giraffes. (Note: this person did not work at a zoo.)
  • Your growth is like a tree branching out in all directions.
  • Your sense of urgency does not go unnoticed. Your passion is exemplary.
  • Thanks for taking the load while I travel around - you're the best. Always in a good mood even when more tasks are heaped on you!
  • We value you!
  • You always provide great service to both fellow employees and the public. They always walk away with a smile.
  • Your review skills are good, but try to limit your conversation and let your employees have a chance to speak. It is supposed to be a tool to open up communication.


The purpose of giving feedback should be to begin a dialogue so both parties come to greater shared understanding, where, as a starting point you communicate:

  • your understanding/interpretation of a situation or circumstances
  • your expectations
  • your appreciation (if appropriate)

The purpose of giving feedback to someone is not to change them. That's not something you can do as a manager or peer; only the person themselves can initiate change.


Give your feedback directly to the person it applies to, not to their peers, your co-workers, your managers, your family and friends... This one is hard. When our expectations aren't met, we often fear confrontation in communicating that, so we grumble to others. When our expectations are met, we sometimes assume the person already knows that, so again, we tell others. The one person who needs to hear your expectations or appreciation is the one who took the action.

Be specific and give examples. Some of the sample feedback comments listed above are positive, but don't really give the recipient specific feedback about what actions or behaviors met your expectations and are desirable. They just communicate sentiment. Others convey expectations vaguely, using words like "dynamic" that don't necessarily have a clear or shared meaning. Make sure you tell the person what your expectations are, what you appreciate, or what your understanding/ interpretation of a situation or circumstances is. Using similes and metaphors can be helpful, but you need to make sure you have a shared understanding of what they mean and of their value. Is it good to be like a "tree that's branching out in all directions"?

Choose the right moment. It's generally more effective to give feedback when an action or behavior happens or shortly thereafter. There is one big caveat to this piece of advice though. You should always avoid giving feedback when emotions are running high: yours, or the person you want to give feedback to. Emotion can get in the way of effective communication. You want to make sure that you are in a position to effectively say what you have to say and that the person you want to say it to is in a position to be receptive to your message. But never wait til performance review time to deliver feedback for the first time. As a manager, you need to give all your employees regular, ongoing feedback about your evaluation of their performance.

Choose the right place. If you're communicating your appreciation, it's perfectly acceptable to do so in a public forum, as long as the person you're giving the feedback to is comfortable with that. When you're communicating about unmet expectations, it's usually best to do this privately with the person.

Don't dwell on the pastEmployee performance expert Jamie Resker suggests that feedback that's aimed at communicating unmet expectations should be forward looking; don't rehash all the old examples, tell the person what you want them to do going forward. Be future focused and positive. That will help reduce defensiveness and increase receptivity.

Leave out the "but...". An old piece of advice about feedback used to recommend that you sandwich negative feedback between positive feedback, to soften the blow. Current wisdom recognizes that this technique can backfire. Couching negative feedback in this way makes the positive feedback seem insincere, and predisposes the recipient to discount the positives while dwelling on the negatives. It also tends to make recipients wait for, or look for the negative any time you deliver positive feedback.

Remember that you are not the master of the universe. There are lots of different and valuable ways to accomplish a task. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Your way is not necessarily the only way, the right way or the best way. Before giving someone feedback, check to make sure that your expectations are reasonable and not limited by your ego. Limiting your staff to do everything your way limits creativity, innovation and learning in your organization and robs you of the varied skills, experience and perspective of your employees.

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