8 Wimpy Words Leaders Use When Giving Feedback
September 13, 2016

8 Wimpy Words Leaders Use When Giving Feedback

by Brian de Haaff

Do you ever dread sending off an important report to your boss? I once reported to a VP who replied to emails with vague and unhelpful feedback about three days after I asked for it. Work typically “looked ok.” There was precious little direct feedback or concrete direction — positive or negative.

I vowed to provide clear feedback when I took on a leadership role. (And if you know me, then you know I could not avoid it — even if I tried.)

Giving feedback is tough, but necessary. But unfortunately, too many people wimp out when it’s time to provide their perspective and end up creating more confusion than clarity. 

Others simply do not want to invest the time required to craft an insightful message, whether the comments are encouraging or critical. Meaningful feedback takes time. And too many leaders follow in the virtual footsteps of my former VP, emailing dead-end, two-word responses.

There is no reason to be anything but responsive, direct, and detailed when delivering feedback. But some people are more concerned with saving face — or saving time.

Whether you manage a team or are frequently asked for input from colleagues, here are a few wimpy words you should strike from your vocabulary:

Fine “Your changes look fine.” The linguistic equivalent to a passing C grade on a school report card. But who strives for mediocrity? Forget about “fine” and instead provide specific insight into what you liked. “I see this design includes more vibrant colors than the last iteration. I think it better matches our brand.”

Try “Can you try to make those updates tomorrow?” Used in this way, “try” sounds like you do not expect the other person to follow through. Simply ask for what you need and allow them to respond in kind. “Can you complete this by noon tomorrow? Let me know.”

Sorry “Sorry, but I don’t think this is the best approach.” There is no need to lead with an apology. Apologizing in advance puts the recipient in defense mode and weakens your position. “I do not think this is the best approach because…”

Just “There just isn’t enough detail.” Do you want to hedge, stall, and diminish the impact of what you have to say? Then just use this word. If you want to share helpful feedback with a team member, avoid filler words. “Please provide more detail in the next version of the on-boarding flow — it will help the customers understand the product’s value.”

Seems “It seems like you missed another deadline.” This word springs from a well of wishy-washy phrases such as “it appears” orcorrect me if I’m wrong.” Something either is… or it isn’t. You know what you need to say, so say it. “I saw that you missed the deadline. What’s up?”

Honestly “Honestly, your hard work paid off.” No need to caveat. Besides, prefacing a remark this way can skew sarcastic or passive aggressive. Whether positive or negative, make a genuine sentiment. “The team was engaged during the presentation and asked pertinent followup questions. Your hard work paid off.

MaybeMaybe you could try a different approach next time.” Are you not confident in your opinion? Or are you unsure whether you have an opinion at all? Do not be tentative or timid — it helps no one. “Screenshots would eliminate confusion next time.”

OK “Looks OK.’ These two letters can mean anything from “just passable” to its original meaning “all correct.” Rather than offering short shrift, be clear about what you liked or want to see improved. “The project is off to a good start, but I want you to focus on improving the documentation and more clearly sharing the overall plan.”

Delivered with respect, direct feedback — along with a clear explanation — goes a long way toward building up skills and encouraging growth. 

Of course, delivering feedback can be challenging. It might seem easier to sidestep it completely. But every team member deserves to understand what their boss or colleague really thinks.

Make the effort to sharpen and improve your message. Your team can take it. In fact, they would likely rather hear it from you straight than untangle whatever you are trying hard not to say.

What wimpy words make you groan at work?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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