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Three tips for giving feedback to colleagues

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Brad Anderson

It’s hard to improve at anything without help from others. Often, that help comes in the form of feedback—that we need to change something we’re doing, or do it differently, or stop doing something. But for many of us, this kind feedback can be fraught with tension and stress.

Maybe I’ll tackle how to more gracefully receive feedback in a future post. For now, though, I’d like to talk about how to be a better giver of feedback, especially when you’re dealing with peers and colleagues. Because there’s a real art to giving feedback.

Here are three tips I hope you’ll find useful:

Tip #1: Give feedback directly, face to face

Imagine you have something important to say to a loved one in your personal life. Do you send an email? Shoot off a text? I can tell you that if I ever tried to tell my wife something important in an email, I’d probably arrive home to find my stuff piled up in the street!

Seriously, though, it’s always best to give feedback face to face. If speaking in person isn’t an option, videoconferencing is the next best thing.

Tip #2: Surround your feedback with encouragement

Many times, we’re called to provide feedback when someone is engaged in a big challenge: maybe a new job, a new project, or a new set of responsibilities.

Recognize that your suggestions for improvement—which is what all your feedback should ultimately aim to provide—will land in the middle of an ongoing, often complex, context for the person you’re addressing. And realize that this person is unlikely to master all their responsibilities, or implement all your feedback, overnight.

Provide plenty of encouragement, also known as positive feedback, before and after any suggestions for corrections, changes, or other so-called negative feedback. Aim for a ratio of six to seven encouraging things for every bit of tougher feedback.

Tip #3: Listen

People are much more likely to receive, absorb, and act on feedback from people who they believe care about them. The best way to show you care about someone is to listen to them. I don’t mean just nod appreciatively or go through the motions of listening. I mean really listen.

Turn the giving of feedback into an opportunity to open a rich conversation with the recipient of your feedback. Not only will the experience be more pleasant for both of you, but your feedback is much more likely to take hold and be put into action.

Now, I’d like to turn the tables: What feedback do you have for me about the art of giving feedback? What are some tips or approaches that have worked for you in the past? Or do you have entertaining stories of any epic feedback fails? Reach out to me (

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson is the executive vice president of the NetApp Hybrid Cloud Group. He is responsible for driving the strategy and execution to build a portfolio of offerings that helps customers build cloud-architected data centers. These data centers can then deliver cloud services for innovative applications in either private or service provider models. Brad has a broad business background, leading both startup and mature businesses, and he has a track record of turning emerging products into multimillion- and billion-dollar businesses. He brings substantial leadership experience and deep knowledge of the converged systems market to lead NetApp’s growth in the cloud infrastructure business and to help customers build their next-generation data centers. Brad spent nine years at HP Compaq as the senior vice president and GM of Industry Standard Servers, where he led the company’s $8 billion x86 server business. He spent seven years as president and GM of Dell's $12 billion Enterprise Solution Group leading servers, storage, networking and software businesses. He helped Dell acquire EqualLogic, Compellent, and Force10, and he grew each business significantly to enable Dell’s transition away from a mostly OEM model in storage and networking. Just before joining NetApp, Brad served as president and chief operating officer of Gravitant, a cloud service brokerage platform company, where he played an instrumental role in growing the business and in selling the company to IBM. Brad holds a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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