How to inspire your colleagues when giving feedback

By Guest Contributor Kyle Murtagh

We hear from Kyle Murtagh from Toastmasters International on how to inspire your colleagues rather than dishearten them when giving feedback.


Contestants on TV cooking shows, actors attending an audition, and pretty much everyone having a driving lesson all have something in common. They’ve felt nervous before performing a task, then relieved when it was over, and then very quickly nervous again waiting for their performance to be critiqued.

Tense, worried and slightly scared is typically how people feel before they are given feedback. For the person delivering the evaluation, breaking through this emotional barrier can be something of a challenge; if approached in the wrong way, the goal of the feedback—to improve performance—can be more difficult to achieve. 

Many see cutting to the chase as a virtue, but when giving feedback, it can often be a misstep. By immediately delivering suggestions for improvement—while your colleague is still in the ‘fight or flight’ section of their emotional Venn diagram—their reaction could be ugly. They could become hypersensitive and mount an angry defence that will make them less likely to hear your advice and gain the benefit. Or they could become disheartened and deflated. Avoid these extremes and other undesirable reactions in between by starting with positives.



Be uplifting and genuine. Total failure in every aspect of a task is rare; so find the part that is praiseworthy. No matter how small, highlight it. I had a maths teacher at school with a talent for starting with positives; in one class test I got 29 out of 30 questions incorrect. Mr Robertson said, “Kyle, two things I want to say; firstly, thanks for sitting the test, and secondly, well done for having the courage to leave an answer for every question.” Before the meeting, I was incredibly anxious because I knew the test was a disaster. But his two compliments (the second more than the first) relaxed my mind sufficiently so that I was open to hearing Mr Robertson’s critique.

It’s a truism that people can be their own worst critic, so let your colleague acknowledge that they did something well. Compel them to feel valued. This will make them more likely to be open to constructive feedback. From there, your message has more chance of sticking and being acted upon.       

Consider these descriptions of someone’s performance: superb time-management; great productivity; lovely rapport building. They are all great—as headlines. The problem with confining your feedback to these types of phrases is that it does not explain why their time-management was superb, how you are measuring their productivity, or what they did that resulted in their rapport being lovely. If you miss out the detail of why they did well, they can guess exactly what it was they did that was praise-worthy, but they may not guess correctly, and the next evaluation may see you and your colleague wondering why they appear to have gone backwards. As a presentation skills coach, when I give a speaker feedback it’s important that I explicitly explain why a certain action had a positive or negative effective. For instance, if a speaker smiles during a presentation, I won’t just say “it was great that you smiled”. Instead, I’ll say “your smile was warm, welcoming and showed that you wanted to be here with us today!”. By reinforcing why the action was positive the speaker is much more likely to act in that manner again. Thus, providing detail is a crucial part of ensuring feedback sessions are educational encounters. 



Similarly, when you move on to areas where your colleague needs to improve, avoid broad brushstroke assessments. Without explanatory information, phrases such as your time-management needs to improve, your productivity could be better, and you need to work on your rapport building are of limited use. Much better would be pointing out that taking a few minutes to plan a task rather than jumping straight in will see the task completed in less time, or explaining the metrics used to assess productivity, or stressing the importance of eye contact in meetings.  

When you are giving recommendations, suggest specific activities, habits or tools that will improve work output. Demonstrate these recommendations, perhaps by highlighting examples of others who have used them successfully. You can make this more powerful by drawing on personal experience. If one change, for example, making a list of the day’s tasks, tackling the biggest task of the day first, organising files in a particular way—improved your own work output hugely, explain what you did and the positive impact. If it helps, see yourself as a kind of ‘personal trainer’. In the gym, a trainer often doesn’t just tell you want to do, he or she shows you what to do by performing the exercise themselves. In your case, by reciting or showing what you do to achieve a particular result you lead by example. In turn, inspiring your colleagues to take action.

The next time you are giving feedback remember to compliment first – there is always something positive to find – explain ‘why’ the action is good or bad and lead the way through the power of demonstrating your recommendations. With this approach your insightful feedback will be actionable, and your inspired colleagues will recognise how much more they are capable of.      


Maintaining performance today is no longer simply about having an annual appraisal and telling employees “you must try harder”. Research demonstrates that regular discussions about performance and providing feedback to the people you manage is a more effective way to motivate them and keep them on track. Distilled into this single, handy-sized volume are 50 tips, advice and techniques to help any manager become quickly skilled at regularly discussing performance, setting goals and objectives and providing the necessary feedback to ensure individuals and teams thrive in the company. Structured into five key parts, each of the 50 concise chapters also contains a practical exercise to help the reader understand and implement the concepts and ideas of this book.

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Kyle Murtagh is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit