What does your feedback say about you?

How do you give feedback?

Businesses without a strong feedback culture miss opportunities to grow and improve but believing feedback is important is not enough. Great leaders use feedback to develop performance and choose language carefully to inspire the results they want in the future.

Consider this example:

A team member sent an email to a client without correcting the spelling. As you were cc’d, you noticed this. Which if the following would you choose when speaking to them:

  1. You should have used a spell check.
  2. Why didn’t you use a spell check?
  3. Next time, let’s use a spell check.

Learning point

  • ‘You should have…’ criticises. It shows that I can see the mistake but you couldn’t. It says ‘I’m better than you’.
  • ‘Why didn’t you…’ accuses. It says they don’t care and questions their commitment. Do you never make mistakes?
  • ‘Next time…’ inspires. It shows understanding and sets higher expectations at the same time.


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Listen to yourself

  • Do you focus on past mistakes in feedback?
  • Do you order change rather than inspiring it?


If you hear yourself saying:

  • You should have…
  • Why didn’t you…?


  • Next time…
  • Let’s… in the future


When giving feedback:

  • Look for what people can learn from the situation.
  • Focus on how to improve in the future.
  • Talk about the next time, not the last time.

Can you hear accountability?

How do leaders and managers ensure accountability in their team and what are the signs of a lack of accountability?

Can you hear the language of accountability at work?

Does this sound familiar?

Team leader: Can you get this done by the end of the day?

Team member: I’ll do my best but I’m pretty busy.

Do you have confidence the task will be done?

Another way

Team leader: I need this done by 5 today. Can you meet that deadline?

Team member: It might be difficult I have 2 other deadlines.

Team leader: Well, this is a priority. How can I help?

What about now? Confident the task will be done?

Learning points

If you want your team to be accountable, you need to give them clear expectations.

If you give specific expectations, you’ll receive specific answers.

Don’t give or accept vague deadlines.


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Listen to yourself

Do you set clear objectives?
Do you give vague promises?

Listen to your team

Do they say yes or no directly?
Do they say ‘I’ll try’ or I’ll do my best’?


When you think:

‘as soon as possible’ or ‘ by the end of the day’


‘By 5pm’ or, even better, ‘when can you do this by?’

If your team replies ‘I’ll try’ ask ‘What help do you need to meet the deadline?’


Next time you set a task:

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Expect clear responses
  • Follow up vague replies and offer help

How one word changed a world

Jonny was a sales manager. His team performed okay but he knew they could do better.

So he pushed them. He told them things like:

  • You need to close more.
  • I got six leads today.
  • You should visit customer X.
  • I always visit customers as much as I can.

Jonny had his appraisal, including 360 degree feedback. His boss told him his team felt:

  • demotivated
  • disliked
  • distrusted

Performance had to improve.

Jonny was shocked. He didn’t know what to do and decided to see a coach. The coach listened to him talk about his team and then said:

‘Every time you talk about your team, you say ‘they always… but I think they should…’ Are you a team? Do they know they’re a team?’

Jonny knew what to do. The next day, he went into the office and said:

  • We need to close more, how can we do it?
  • We need to visit our customers more regularly, how can we do that?
  • We can better results if we work together.

And things changed. The team seemed happier. They performed better. Results improved.

Because they were a team and everyone knew it.

Learning Points 

‘We’ combines. ‘I’ isolates. ‘You’ divides.

‘We’ creates accountability. ‘I’ creates ego. ‘You’ creates blame.

  • Managers who use ‘I’ sit above the team.
  • Managers who use ‘you’ don’t trust the team.
  • Managers who use ‘we’ grow with the team.


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Listen to yourself

Do you use I, you or we?

If there’s lots of ‘I’ and ‘you’ how does this affect the team?

Is morale where you’d like it to be?


Think about how you could let ‘we’ into your words.

‘I need you to improve’ becomes ‘We need to improve’

‘You have to…’ becomes ‘We need to…’


When talking to the team next, show them that you believe we are in it together.

Use your words to combine and share, not divide and blame.