Giving actionable feedback needs action words

Giving actionable feedback needs action wordsWe can tangle ourselves in knots when it comes to giving feedback (whether positive or developmental). Particularly us awkward Brits. We dress it up. Put frills and a bow on it. Ahhh – don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Or we feed people sandwiches. Then we get vexed when the recipient of this cat’s cradle of verbiage doesn’t appear to get it…

Here’s a simple point: actionable feedback – that is so clear the recipient is in no doubt about what they need to act upon – needs action words.

Here’s a simple clue: action words aren’t adjectives.

So when participants on Zoomly’s ‘How to Give Effective Feedback’ workshop start saying ‘aggressive’, ‘supportive’, ‘directive’, ‘helpful’ in their feedback examples, they soon get the message that the adjectives can do more harm than good.

Why? Adjectives are subjective: the observer’s opinion. One observer may think someone’s being aggressive; another may think they’re being decisive. There’s a difference – who’s right? Both and neither – it’s their opinion, and that’s all it is. The recipient however, may rightly argue that they weren’t being aggressive, or may be unaware that’s how someone perceived them and worse, clueless as to what they did to prompt the criticism.




Here’s a simple tip: actionable feedback uses verbs.

Cue yet another example of the Brits in the room getting tangled in our own language (and those for whom English is a second or third language feeling very pleased with themselves, as they usually have the grammar thing nailed).

Verbs – preferably active verbs – identify the behaviour in question. So our aggressive person may have shouted at or interrupted the person speaking. Or if they seemed decisive, the individual may have made a tough decision, clarified why they’d done so and then moved on. When we use active verbs we’re being so clear about the behaviour that warrants the feedback, an impartial observer would be able to back us up. So be wary of ‘know’ or ‘understand’ for example, as these aren’t active verbs. Thus the employee deemed to be ‘sloppy’ instead arrived late, and the rising star who’s seen as ‘proactive’ instead asks what needs to happen next and does it.



Here’s some more:
Agree   Build  Check  Design  Explain  Finish  Give  Help  Invent  Jump  Kick  Listen  Make

Note  Organise  Prepare  Question  Research Share  Tell  Use  Verify  Write…and I’ll leave X, Y & Z up to you!

You may also find this blog post useful: 7 tips for receiving feedback. 

Want to find out more about workshops to build feedback skills? Please get in touch.



Dawn is the author of ‘The feedback book, available on in good bookstores and on Amazon.



Illustrations by DepositPhotos:

“Businesswoman get feedback from other people.”

“Businessman get feedback from other people.”


Comments are closed.