How to Give Written Feedback

The other day I emailed John, a client, a description of a new seminar I am creating for him. He wrote back:

Hi, Lynn,

Thanks for your creativity. I like what you have created so far.

May I suggest the following modification?

After that question, he suggested a specific change in the seminar title.

John was following an essential principle of giving feedback:

Before suggesting a change or giving constructive (negative) feedback, establish a positive climate by making at least one sincere, positive comment.

When I read the words "your creativity" and "I like what you have created," I felt pleased. John had recognized my good work. At that point, I was ready to hear about changes he wanted from me.

When writers do not take time to say something sincere and positive, they risk defensiveness and disagreement from the other person. Here is what John might have written if he had not been careful about the way he was communicating:

Lynn, I got your email. The title doesn’t work. Can we change it to this? [followed by a new title]

Here is another ineffective opening:

Lynn, thanks for your work. Don’t you think the title is a little too broad? Please come up with something different.

Both of the examples above communicate, but they don’t communicate well. I would respond to them–but without joy or enthusiasm.

The current issue of our newsletter, Better Writing at Work, is all about effective ways of giving feedback in writing. Subscribe here. Subscriptions are free, and we do not share your contact information with anyone.

Lynn

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Lynn, I think your website is one of the best writing resources on Internet. I spent an hour reading your posts and already learned more than I did in the last 10 years.

    I came here via another writing blog that referenced your blog (I forgot which one – I was so absorbed in your posts to remember where I came from.)

    I came here because I want to learn to be an excellent business writer. I want to change the way people think about business writing – that it is clear, concise, professional yet personal, and etc. With your help, I feel I am in good company.

    Thank you very much for sharing your expertise with us.

    Amy

  2. Amy, you have made my day. Thanks!

    It is fitting that you commented on the post “How to Give Written Feedback.” Your feedback was positive, detailed, and sincere. Thank you for taking the time to share your kind words.

    Lynn

Comments are closed.