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4 steps to give performance feedback to your staff in English

You're a manager, you manage a team, however big or small. They speak English, whether native or non-natively. You are responsible for delivering performance for the organisation through their efforts. You know you need to build a relationship with your team and part of this relies on regular feedback so they know where they stand with you. How do you do it?

This is difficult when you're not doing it in your own language. Fortunately, there is a formula.

Providing team members with feedback is challenging. This is true even for native English speakers because most of us were never trained for this part of management. It is made more challenging by your possible shortage of vocabulary, confidence, and fluency. How should you say it? How do you describe what they did? What if they respond negatively? What if they don’t accept what you’re telling them or even worse, they respond with excuses which you have no answers for? How will that leave you feeling?

There is a way to deliver this feedback in four easy steps with exact words that you can repeat often.

Check out the interview below

Where to start:

  • Begin by observing positive behaviour you've identified as having led to a good performance. Practise feedback based on positive behaviour for a number of weeks before you begin to roll out more corrective feedback.
  • Provide this feedback as close (time-wise) to the behaviour as you can. Sooner is always better.
  • Feedback must become as frequent and comfortable as breathing. It takes time and gets easier along the way.

The process:

  • Ask the team member if you may share feedback with them
  • State the behaviour
  • Point out the resulting impact of that behaviour
  • Encourage effective future behaviour (by thanking them for the positive behaviour or asking them for a change in behaviour)

Words to use:

1) Step 1: ask

“May I give you some feedback?”
“May I share something with you?”

2) Step 2: state the behaviour

Focus on behaviour. Not the result, not the attitude, not the intention of the person.

Look for: The words used by the person. Precisely how they said the words (assuming it’s something they’ve said that you feel you need to give them feedback on). Their facial expressions. Their body language. The product of their work: quality; quantity; accuracy; timeliness; documents generated.

Examples of stating feedback on the above. Always start with “when you”, this makes it easier to focus on their behaviour:

“When you deliver ___ahead of time…”
“When you (do something more than asked)…”
“When you’re late for meetings…”
“When your product quality is below standard…”

3) Step 3: Point out the resulting impact of that behaviour. It’s a continuation of statements you made you made in step 2.

Examples: start with “what happens”, this will guide you in your thinking about the impact of the behaviour:

“… here’s what happens, the team’s job is made easier.”

 “ ... here’s what happens, we delivered the project on time for a second time.”
“… here’s what happens, the boss is impressed, I’m grateful as you helped to build our reputation.”

4) Step 4: Encourage effective future behaviour. Here we either thank the person for the behaviour and/or continue to do this or in the case of adjusting feedback, asking what the team member could do differently.

Examples of this:

"...senior management notices the extra effort you put in."
"...the customer is grateful and helps us with customer service feedback."
“...the project is completed ahead of schedule and reduces overall cost.
"...what can you do differently?"

Some additional pointers:

  • If you (the manager) are upset about the incident: don't give feedback.
  • The purpose of the feedback: to encourage future effective behaviour. Not to punish, not to point out mistakes.
  • Can you avoid giving feedback: if your reasons are not in line with the above or you feel you MUST give this feedback (in terms of how you feel), then you shouldn't give it. You are not in the right mindset.

The big question: what if the person refuses to listen to the feedback or disagrees? This merits a section of its own.

  1. They will most likely NOT refuse, do not let this be the reason you do not give your team feedback on their performance.
  2. The fact that you have pointed out their part of their behaviour that they should change is sufficient. Despite appearances, they got the point.
  3. Consider that your team member is being defensive about behaviour or a situation that occurred in the past. Your focus is on the future. Don’t engage. Just smile with confidence and walk away calmly allowing them to think they’ve won an argument (they haven’t).


The feedback method is most effective once you have built up a reputation with your team members. This is achieved through a routine of weekly 30-minute meetings that Manager Tools refers to as “One on Ones”.

Feedback is a very powerful way to adjust behaviour and performance at work.

There is a best practice managers can follow to get the process started and advise their staff about the intention to start a feedback program.

This method of giving feedback was adapted from the original work created by Mark Horstman of Manager Tools. ( https://www.manager-tools.com ). Additional material adapted from Mark Horstman. The Effective Manager . Wiley. Kindle Edition.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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