Immediate Feedback

Don’t Save It Up — Give Immediate Feedback Because Feedback Has a Short Half Life

Radically Candid praise and criticism is immediate. You’ll remember the specifics much better when you give immediate feedback.

You’ll also be more kind (and results-oriented) because you’ll give the person the opportunity to repeat the good or fix the bad faster.

In line with our tips and techniques for the HIP Approach, here are some reminders and practical suggestions for giving immediate feedback.

Feedback has a short half life

Remember, the benefits of feedback deteriorate quickly. If you wait to tell somebody for a week or a quarter, the incident is so far in the past that they can’t fix the problem or build on the triumph. Seize the moment immediately to get the most out of the feedback opportunity.

Waiting wastes brain cycles

If you wait too long to give feedback you’ll experience something like the following scenario. You’ll start to see things and think, oh I need to write that down so I can remember to tell so and so about such and such at some date in the future. Then, you need to remember to jot it down. Then when you finally do have time to write it down you’ll forget what it was and have to sit there trying to remember and hating yourself for not jotting it down sooner.

Then you need to keep track of where you jotted it down. Then you need to remember to schedule the meeting. And then before the meeting you need to find time to look at the list of random things you’ve been jotting down. They won’t really hang together and you’ll have a pretty random conversation.

You won’t be able to use the “show don’t tell” and “CORE” tips for being helpful and humble because you won’t have written down enough details.

immediate feedback

Then, you’ll start to see things. You’ll start to imagine that they already “got the message” and that you no longer need to give the feedback because they self-corrected. Just as you start to relax because of your self-correcting team, BAM, the subject of the original feedback reemerges, and you’re back to square one.

Unspoken feedback will start to take up more and more of your mental space. It will feel like a “dreaded list” of things you don’t want to say to your employees, but know you “should” say. It will feel daunting and exhausting, instead of productive and kind.

But there’s no reason to waste all those brain cycles. It’s much more effective and less burdensome to just say it right away!

Unspoken criticism builds up

If you stay silent about something that’s wrong for a long time, you are likely to get more frustrated or furious or both. The longer the problem goes unfixed, the more likely you are to blow up in a way that makes you look irrational, harms your relationship, or both. Don’t let this happen to you. Just say it right away!

3 actionable tips for getting better at immediate feedback

Say it in 2-3 minutes between meetings

When I teach workshops on Radical Candor, the single most common question people ask is, “How do I find the time?” People worry that trying to give more impromptu feedback will take them a lot of extra time. They think it’s an hour-long conversation they need to schedule. They think giving good feedback is going to add hours of meetings to each week.

It shouldn’t. If you give praise and criticism immediately, it really won’t take too much time.

Impromptu feedback is something you can squeeze in between meetings in three minutes or less. Truly. The best feedback I’ve gotten in my life generally happened in super-quick conversations between meetings or standing waiting for a light to change. Giving impromptu feedback is more like using a toothpick than getting a root canal.

Don’t schedule it. Just do it consistently and immediately when it’s needed, and maybe you won’t ever have to get a root canal.

immediate feedback

Keep slack time in your calendar; or, be willing to be late

Giving more impromptu feedback does take discipline. Prioritizing something generally means making time in your calendar for it. But how do you immediately make time in your calendar for something that is impromptu? You can’t, but there are a couple of ways around this.

In order to give immediate, impromptu feedback, you must do one of two things.

  • Keep slack time in your calendar, either by not scheduling back-to-back meetings or by having 25 and 50-minute meetings, not 30 and 60-minute meetings.
  • Be willing to be late.

If you can possibly help it, don’t schedule meetings back to back. I learned one technique, that I admired but couldn’t implement, from Qualtrics co-founder Jared Smith. When I worked with him at Juice and Google, the first thing he did each morning was look at his calendar and cancel at least one meeting.

If avoiding back-to-back meetings is impossible for you, just schedule all the 30-minute meetings you own as 25-minute meetings and all the hour-long meetings as 50-minute meetings. Encourage others to do the same, and be disciplined enough to keep meetings on schedule.

immediate feedback

If neither of these is an option for you, you’re simply going to have to be late to some meetings. In many cases, it’s more important to give impromptu feedback to somebody who works for you than it is to be on time to your next meeting. When I’m leading a team, I am always scheduled within an inch of my life, so giving immediate feedback always meant making a lot of little impromptu adjustments to my schedule — i.e., being late.

You’re going to have to apologize to people for being late and then do some real-time prioritization when you finally do arrive at your next meeting. We think this is a good tradeoff.

Don’t save up feedback for a 1:1 or a performance review

One of the funniest things about becoming a boss is that it causes an awful lot of people to forget everything they know about how to relate to other people. If you have a beef with somebody in your personal life, it would never occur to you to wait for a formally scheduled meeting to tell them — you’d just say it right away.

If you were impressed by something somebody in your personal life did, you wouldn’t wait for a formal performance review to mention it — you’d just say it right away. Yet, when you become a manager, it’s too easy to throw everything you know about how important impromptu communication is to having a productive relationship out the window.

All too often, bosses forget about ordinary communication and rely instead on all the formal processes, such as 1:1 meetings, annual or bi-annual performance reviews, or employee happiness surveys. Ironically, these processes were put in place to reinforce ordinary communication. But if you let them substitute for impromptu feedback, they do more harm than good.

Don’t lose the opportunity to give immediate feedback because of the formal processes of your organization. Catch yourself if you find you’re making a mental note for a future feedback opportunity. Just say it right away!

What are your challenges with giving immediate feedback? Do you have your own reminders and tips?

(Updated June 28, 2022)

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Kim Scott is the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and Radical Respect: How to Work Together Better and co-founder of Radical Candor, a company that helps people put the ideas in her books into practice. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. She's also managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow. She lives with her family in Silicon Valley.