Is feedback a gift? As I heard Adam Grant say last week: ‘I don’t know about you, but I prefer my gifts wrapped in a bow, and I want to know where the returns department is!’ I wonder, though, if giving good feedback is a gift. Great minds like Brene Brown, Adam Grant and Daniel Coyle have done much work on this topic. My summary of that work is that the words you use are super important, as are empathy and authenticity for impact

 A study by researchers at Stanford, Columbia and Yale Universities found there are 19 words required to give what they termed ‘magical feedback’: ‘I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.’

They’re magical because, with this phrase, you are opening the conversation by setting expectations that this will be feedback. No beating around the bush. It’s completely transparent. Critically, you’re also telling the recipient you believe in them.

And that’s powerful. It reframes feedback and gives you the space to share it meaningfully and impactfully.

They’re listening.

But it comes with a cardinal rule – it must be BS-free.

Gregg Popovich is the coach of the San Antonio Spurs and is recognised as one of the most successful coaches in the NBA. As documented in Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code, it is in part because he does two things consistently: he’ll tell you the truth with no bullshit and then love you to death.

Couple the 19 magic words with Popovich’s philosophy and I believe you have something very special: ‘I need to have this conversation with you because I value you, have high expectations, and I know that you can meet those expectations.’

Straight away, you’ve cut through any defensiveness.

You signal that the person is part of this group, that this group is special – we have high standards here – and that you believe in them. (And by the way, if you don’t value, care, respect or believe in them, it’s probably worth considering what you hope to gain by giving feedback.)

And last, but not least, use it judiciously. If you start every conversation with ‘I need to have this conversation with you …’, it will likely lose its impact. (And possibly result in you being avoided in the hallways!)

I’ll leave you with a little more from Popovich: ‘Hug ’em and hold ’em.’ Just remember, don’t give them BS.

PS. If you give this a try, reach out. It’s an approach that works for me, and I’d love to hear how it goes for you!