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Specific Feedback is Good Feedback

Most of the feedback people receive in the workplace isn’t feedback at all.  It’s what I fondly refer to as Cap’n Crunch – vague and unhelpful words that make people defensive but don’t change behavior. If you want the people you work with to do some differently, give specific feedback.

Most of the fake feedback people get sounds like this:Specific Feedback

“You did a great job on that.”

“You’re doing really good work.”

“You’re dressing inappropriately.”

“You’re difficult to work with.”

None of this is feedback. It’s all Cap’n Crunch. Vague, vague, and more vague.

The first words out of your mouth will invariably be Cap’n Crunch. Follow those words with, “for example” and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

“You did a great job on that. For example, I never had to ask about the status of the project. You gave me an update every Friday, and that made me feel comfortable that we were on track.”

You dressed inappropriately for that meeting. For example, the client was dressed in business casual and you were jeans and tennis shoes. Next time, please dress as the client dresses or a step above in khaki pants or slacks, a button down shirt, and a jacket.”

Most people are afraid to give feedback because they don’t want to deal with the defensive reaction they anticipate. The more vague you are, the more defensive people will be. Because they don’t know what you’re talking about.

If employees shop your feedback around, asking what others think of the feedback, it’s because you were vague, they disagree with you or they’re being defensive. Feedback will be received better and resisted less if you’re specific.

Specific feedback can be captured on video. Meaning, you can video someone walking into a meeting late, rolling his eyes, and texting on his phone. I dare you to video “you were disrespectful in the meeting, you dressed inappropriately, or you’re difficult to work with.”  If you can’t capture the feedback on video, you don’t yet have specific feedback. You have Cap’n Crunch.

When I teach managers to give feedback I ask the managers to, “Describe the situation to me. What did the person do? Managers often reply with, “He was negative.” This is Cap’n Crunch. So I keep asking questions. “What did he do that was negative? What did it look like?” After two or three questions the manager tells me, “I overheard him complaining to other employees in his cube about the decisions the company is making. I’d rather he ask me questions about the direction we’re going versus gossip to his peers.” Now we have specific feedback.

Wait to give feedback until you have a specific example. If you don’t have a specific example, go get one. Without an example, employees will look at you in a confused way, question the validity of what you’re saying and become defensive. And they’ll be right in doing all of these things.

Most of us dread giving and receiving performance reviews. Last week, this week and next week’s blogs are designed to make the performance appraisal process easier. If you want more help, chapters nine through twelve of How to Say Anything to Anyone provide a clear and easy-to-follow formula for giving specific feedback.

I’ll be back next week with more tips on giving feedback that actually changes behavior. Until then, BE SPECIFIC. If you’re not using the words “for example” you’re not giving specific feedback.



Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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2 Responses to “Specific Feedback is Good Feedback”

  1. Ginny West says:

    Hi Shari,

    This is helping me today in the workplace, as the employee, not the employer. I need to give specific examples to my bosses about how they give me work without enough detail to do it correctly.

    thank you.


  2. shaban says:

    i like very much the examples provided about giving specific feedback.
    i’m looking for different strategies or frames of giving feedback to students , if you have any please email them to me.
    I appreciated your help

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