Words are Important when Providing Feedback

Words are Important

ssuming that we’re interested in giving feedback in such a way that the recipient is willing to listen to it (versus our need to vent), it’s important to select words that are easier for people to accept, while avoiding other words that spark defense and rejection.

Here is a simple word list that will make a big difference when providing feedback:

Avoid absolute-you statements, such as “You never…” or “You always…”

“You” messages tend to create defensiveness in people. By adding an unqualified “absolute” such as “you never” or “you always”, will likely package the feedback for defense, rejection, and even resentment. Not what we intend to do.  Consider alternative words that are less absolute, less extreme or not as forceful.

Some examples:

Instead of “NEVER”, consider . . .
“not usually”, “on rare occasions”, “infrequently”, or “less often”

Instead of “ALWAYS”, consider . . .
“generally”, “usually”, “sometimes”, “at times”, or “every so often”

Instead of “definitely” or “absolutely”, consider . . .
“likely”, “possibly”, “could”, or “might”

Examples of less forceful words and phrases:

“Have you considered…”

“Something to think about and try is…”

“One idea or suggestion is to…”

“Perhaps you can…”

Feedback is most effective when it’s useful and constructive to the recipient.  The words we choose can make it more palatable — “I can listen to it”.


Tom Sullivan, MPA, President & Founder, ProGrowth Associates LLC
Proven Assessments & Learning Solutions for a More Engaged Workforce

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