Types of feedback
There can be a lot of value in feedback when used properly. It helps people to grow, adapt, and become better versions of themselves.
With different types of feedback available, it’s important to familiarise yourself with when to use which type.
This article aims to give you practical advice on the various types of feedback and feedforward, including when it’s not appropriate.
- The types of feedback
- Types of feedback based on source
- Types of feedback based on tone
- Types of feedback at the workplace
The types of feedback
1. Formal feedback
This type of feedback is the most obvious and can take the form of something like an annual performance review. Formal feedback is typically arranged and can be pre-planned.
These sessions give both the employer and the employee to openly discuss problem areas, things that are going well, open questions, and much more.
A formal feedback session at work may look at statistics and demonstrate actionable insights. The employee should know what the topics of conversation are going to be so that they can prepare.
For example: Each year a manager holds an annual performance review. This review aims to talk about the previous 12 months and plan for the next 12 months.
2. Informal feedback
This will be the most common type of feedback that occurs in the workplace. It can happen at any time, between anyone, and can be as effective and useful as unproductive and hurtful.
This kind of feedback is usually very spontaneous and is often unprompted.
Informal feedback can help to build a supportive working environment when it is shared in the right way.
This kind of feedback can vary greatly from a simple 'good job on that report' to something more substantive like showing someone a new way to do something.
For example: An employer praising an employee for the work they are doing. They could comment on speed, accuracy, amount, or any number of things.
Types of feedback based on source
1. Peer-to-peer feedback
Coworkers are constantly giving each other feedback without knowing it. This is because it commonly comes in the form of informal feedback.
Peers share knowledge on how the job is done with new starters, they will always help others fill gaps in their knowledge.
A work environment will thrive when there is effective peer-to-peer feedback. This type of feedback should tend to be shared positively as negative peer feedback can cause tensions. So it is really important to know how to give constructive feedback at work.
For example: You have a new employee. He is new to the team and still learning the software. His teammate noticed that he was doing some generic task but taking longer than expected. So, he decided to show him a handy keyboard shortcut to minimize time spent on that task.
A seft-feedback is a form of autonomous feedback that employees can give themselves.
Naturally, individuals will identify their weak areas and may seek out a way to improve. They may share this with colleagues or management in hopes of support.
A workplace that encourages employees to self-feedback can help them work towards their next steps and they can set goals for the future.
It's important to have time and encouragement for self-reflection and employees can benefit a lot from it.
For example: An employee may recognize there is a gap in their knowledge. They may spend some time studying the topic, take a course and also approach their manager to ask for guidance in this area.
Types of feedback based on tone
1. Positive feedback
This is the type of feedback that we all want to hear, it's when someone praises our work.
Appreciation and positive remarks in the workplace can help an employee feel appreciated and builds loyalty. Most professionals will feel more motivated after hearing some positive feedback.
This type of feedback can help to reinforce good behaviors and will help employees with their professional development.
Although it is important not to overuse positive feedback as its value will decrease.
Too much positive feedback can also lead to employees becoming complacent and feeling less challenged in their role.
Example of quality positive feedback:
Ryan has completed his first proposal to a new client and the pitch was well received. Ryan’s manager takes him to the side after the meeting to congratulate and thank him for his work. He highlighted some of the areas he felt Ryan had excelled in and had gone the extra mile.
2. Positive feedforward
This is all about giving someone comments that will affect their future behaviors.
With positive feedforward, a focus on the future is required, instead of looking back.
These need to be affirming words that employees can put to use to produce the best work possible. Instead of negative feedback which may dishearten someone, positive feedforward gives them the motivation to succeed.
Example of quality positive feedforward:
During Ryan’s proposal meetings there was one area that his manager felt could have been improved upon. After the meeting, his manager shared a few ideas that would help Ryan streamline his next proposal.
3. Negative feedback
This is the kind of feedback that people don't like to hear, especially without warning.
Negative feedback can make individuals feel attacked, demotivated, and undervalued at work.
However, negative feedback can be effective when utilized correctly.
Example of quality negative feedback:
On Ryan’s second proposal, he messed up several key parts which meant the company lost that client. His manager held a private meeting to discuss the areas of poor performance. A proactive discussion was held and a detailed action plan created to avoid this in the future.
Example of poor negative feedback:
Ryan’s manager berated him in front of his coworkers. The tone of the conversation was very personal and left Ryan feeling very attacked. The feedback was vague and unhelpful and left Ryan feeling demotivated for the rest of the week.
Negative feedback is all about corrective thoughts that should aim to change behaviors that weren't successful and need to be avoided.
Positive feedforward is a great alternative if you can't find the words for negative feedback.
4. Negative feedforward
Much like positive feedforward, negative feedforward is comments made about future behaviors. Where they differ is that negative feedforward focuses on behaviors that should be avoided or abandoned altogether.
Negative feedforward can be useful to keep people on the right path and will keep employees from developing bad habits.
It can be more effective than negative feedback as it is less personal.
Example of quality feedforward:
Ryan is preparing a new pitch which will be held in one week’s time. His manager approached him about some areas of improvement. The meeting covered several things which Ryan shouldn’t do in the meeting.
5. Constructive feedback
Constructive feedback should have a focus on the work rather than the person.
It can be made up of positive and negative comments to help someone develop their work further.
Constructive feedback should have a strong point being made that benefits the individual moving forward.
It should be built around observations made on the person's work and results.
Read our guide about how to give constructive feedback.
Example of quality constructive feedback:
Ryan’s performance at work has improved since the second meeting. His manager schedules a meeting to discuss Ryan’s work so far. His manager explained the areas in which Ryan is performing well as well as the areas for improvement. Where improvement was needed, the manager gave advice on how to succeed.
6. Destructive feedback
Destructive feedback is the direct opposite of constructive feedback and it’s not very useful. Instead of focusing on the work, destructive feedback will focus on the individual and is very personal in nature.
There is little productive advice given and the feedback tends to point at faults without any solutions.
Example of destructive feedback:
After a weak pitch, Ryan’s manager blamed Ryan for what went wrong. The manager told Ryan that he had no idea what he was doing. Ryan’s personality was being questioned rather than his work. The feedback provided no helpful insights to help Ryan perform better.
Types of feedback at the workplace
1. Praise (Appreciation)
Praise can be an excellent motivator and a workplace will benefit from positive feedback.
Employees like to feel appreciated and they are likely to be loyal workers for companies that engage with them in this way.
Appreciation can stem from small informal comments about work to more grand recognition like awards for good work.
Example of appreciation:
Ryan always offers to help his colleagues when they need it. He will always be happy to review their work and offer his advice if it’s relevant. When he sees someone doing good work he tells them that they’re doing a good job.
His colleagues will show their appreciation back to Ryan by thanking him for his insights. This mutual appreciation helps to build a strong and reliable team.
Here are some examples of when to use praise:
- When someone has gone above and beyond expectations
- Identified a new cost or time-saving behavior
- Improved their work
- Added to the positive company culture
- Helped their colleague with a hard task
Praise is a wonderful thing to have in abundance at work, however, too much praise can be a bad thing. It can lead to complacency and employees won't feel as challenged if they are constantly praised.
Tips on giving praise:
- Share positive remarks among the team
- Be specific about what you’re praising
- Be sincere with what you say
- Don’t repeatedly praise the same thing
- Don’t put too much praise onto one person
Too much praise aimed at one person can create a hostile working environment as their coworkers will start to think there is favoritism. A delicate balance is required but praise ultimately helps employees to grow.
This is the more negative form of feedback that should be approached carefully to avoid making employees feel bad.
Criticism should only ever be shared constructively and not as a method to put someone down.
This type of feedback in the workplace is used to draw attention to someone's work which may not be up to par.
Criticism can be used to evaluate areas of performance that need improvement.
If the criticism does not have actionable takeaways you risk employees feeling dejected and underappreciated.
Example of criticism:
Ryan has noticed that one of his colleagues is making the same mistake repeatedly while preparing important projects. Ryan points this out to his colleague, noticing that this can lead to big problems. Ryan shares several tips and documentation where his colleague can check required standards and templates for different future projects.
You should use criticism when:
- Talking about areas of improvement with advice on how to do that
- Creating a roadmap to get an employee up to scratch
- At scheduled meetings such as their annual review.
Criticism must take place in a private setting as an employee will feel undermined if it takes place in front of their peers. Negative feedback can be hard to swallow so creating a healthy environment is really important.
Tips on how to give critical feedback:
- Give criticism in private, avoid making a public show of it
- Use positive feedforward instead of negative feedback
- Make it a collaborative conversation
- Don't criticize someone in an open meeting
- Don't avoid a difficult conversation if it needs to be had
- Don't focus on what you don't want, focus on what you need
This kind of feedback is generally used to update an employee on their current performance.
This is useful as it keeps employees informed with expectations, job security, and how they are performing.
Evaluations are an opportunity to reassure workers that they are performing well. This type of feedback session is also a great way to discuss areas of improvement. Effective evaluation feedback can help to improve an employee’s performance.
Evaluation feedback can be given frequently as a way to monitor an employee's performance and keep them in the loop. You may wish to use metrics that compare the employee with their coworkers, and you may even want to use a ranking system.
Example of an evaluation:
Ryan has a scheduled annual performance review that he attends with his manager. His manager will go over some of the key statistics linked to Ryan’s work. Together they identify the areas in which Ryan excels and the areas in which Ryan can improve. They detail an action plan together for Ryan’s continued growth.
Here are some good times to host evaluations:
- At an annual performance review
- Regular meetings during the probation period
- After key events such as losing or winning a new client
- When an employee requests one
Evaluation feedback can be used in a variety of different situations, whether it is overall performance or project-specific. Keep your employees informed of targets and the metrics they are being recorded against.
Tips on how to give good evaluations:
- Give them clear expectations
- Have a clear goal with the feedback
- Make yourself accountable for the results
- Keep a record of progress
- Keep employees updated
- Be forthcoming with targets and important details
- Don’t use the sessions to pit employees against each other
- Don’t track metrics solely to make people look bad
This is a more hands-on kind of feedback that may be relevant when an employee is training.
Coaching feedback can mimic formal feedback sessions but it will involve reviews more often.
If an employee is learning something or new or requires a refresher on something, additional reviews can help with their growth.
Coaching feedback is a great way to prevent someone from developing adverse behaviors. At the same time, it helps them to maintain or develop effective behaviors that benefit the business and their growth.
Example of a coaching session:
Ryan’s firm has hired a new salesperson, Sarah, who is unfamiliar with the business practices. Ryan has been assigned to help train Sarah and support her where he can. He shows her how to use the company software and the best practises the team follows. Ryan gives Sarah tips and tricks that he has learnt while doing the job.
Here’s when a coaching session will be useful:
- To learn new software
- To learn new parts of the business
- When someone is newly hired or promoted
- Collaborate meetings in nature
- Encourage effective behaviors
Employees will benefit from the hands-on approach that comes with coaching feedback.
It's worth being aware of times when coaching feedback sessions may not be effective. Different people respond to different styles and some may find coaching sessions to be like micromanagement.
Tips on how to give coaching feedback:
- Identify areas for potential growth and road mapping
- Host frequent meetings to assess the development
- Make meetings collaborative in nature
- Encourage effective behaviors
- Don't use this as an opportunity to micromanage
- Don't use it for tasks that don't need extra support
The right kind of feedback can be very inspiring for employees. By having smaller feedback sessions that focus on encouragement you can create a safer, friendlier work environment.
These sessions are similar to evaluation sessions but there is a greater emphasis on the job that's being done rather than targets.
Encouragement can be given formally or informally, as part of a performance review, or a quick comment on some good work.
Workers will thrive when their management encourages them. This can lead to greater job satisfaction and company loyalty.
Example of encouragement:
Ryan is working hard on a project but feels like he isn’t performing very well. His manager notices that Ryan is struggling and tells him that his project is looking really good. Ryan feels validated and motivated to keep working hard on his proposal.
Some examples of when to use encouragement:
- When an employee has achieved a new milestone
- When someone has gone above and beyond
- When someone needs a pick me up
- To celebrate success with your team
- During a team meeting
The aim is to make employees feel valued for their contributions. By showing encouragement formally or informally, employees will respond well to it.
This can contribute to their professional growth.
Tips on giving encouragement:
- Use positive feedback to show appreciation
- Share accomplishments with the rest of the team
- Offer some more responsibility when you feel they are ready
- Make it personal
There aren't any downsides to offering encouragement to your employees. The only thing to be mindful of is reinforcing bad behaviors if encouragement is misplaced.
Feedback is really useful for both the employee and the manager. It plays a big part in professional development and continued learning.
A good manager should aim to provide employees with useful feedback frequently and encourage self-feedback habits.