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Informal feedback: how can you give and receive feedback at the workplace?

Informal feedback: how can you give and receive feedback at the workplace?

Artwork by: Katya Vakulenko

  • Informal vs. formal feedback: what’s the difference?
  • When and how should you give informal feedback?
  • How should you process informal feedback from others?
  • How can informal feedback strengthen/harm workplaces?
  • Key takeaways

Are you a business leader at your workplace? Here’s how you can give helpful informal feedback to your employees and receive feedback with grace.

Are you a manager or team leader who wants to boost your workplace’s performance? Worried you might give feedback that sounds too harsh? Does taking feedback from your colleagues stress you out? Informal feedback could be the right approach for you, especially if you have strong verbal communication skills and often need to correct employee mistakes on the fly.

To learn about giving and receiving informal feedback at your workplace, study the following career tips and and topics:

  • What informal workplace feedback looks like

  • Giving informal feedback that’s constructive 

  • How to learn from informal feedback

  • The pros and cons of informal feedback

Informal vs. formal feedback: what’s the difference?

If you’re a manager or team leader at your business, formal feedback is when you set up a meeting with an employee to talk about what they’re excelling at, what they’re struggling with, and how they can improve. For many businesses, these formal employee reviews or performance improvement plans are regular events that happen on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.

Compared to formal feedback, informal feedback is more spontaneous, offered as a quick response to actions that an employee or manager takes. Informal feedback also tends to be casual in tone - more like a friendly chat than a stern lecture.

Whether formal or informal, good feedback gives your workplace associates advice that’s clear, honest, helpful, encouraging, and fair. These qualities are extra important if you ever need to offer informal feedback, which is mostly improvised and may be a shock to employees who hear it.

When and how should you give informal feedback?

Ideally, you should share informal feedback with your employees the moment you notice flaws in their approaches or attitudes. That way, you can correct employee mistakes before they become productivity-damaging habits.

Offering informal feedback can be as simple as whispering advice to an employee at their desk, sending them an email, or inviting them to your office for a brief chat. Whatever form it takes, this feedback should be offered discreetly so employees don’t feel like they’re being publicly called out.

If you want your informal feedback to be constructive and not too harsh, make sure the feedback you give employees obeys these fundamentals:

  • Be honest and up-front. Explain why the employee’s mistake, confirmation bias, or behavior negatively impacts the company.

  • Balance critique with praise. Point out times where the employee met or exceeded expectations.

  • Ask the employee how they might improve their work. Get them to brainstorm their own solutions before offering suggestions of your own.

  • Be friendly. Address employees by name and be non-judgemental in tone.

How should you process informal feedback from others?

No one likes to hear that they’ve screwed up, and even the gentlest critique can feel like a personal attack. This makes listening earnestly to informal feedback from your supervisor (or employees) all the more important if you want to succeed at your job.

When you receive informal feedback from others, keep these principles in mind

  • Don’t interrupt the person giving feedback. Let them finish sharing their thoughts before responding.

  • Don’t take critical feedback personally. Remind yourself that the critic is helping you improve.

  • Show that you’re taking this feedback seriously. Use body language and tones of voice that express your interest.

  • Ask questions about the feedback. Suggest ways you could correct mistakes.

  • Thank the critic for their help. Even if you disagree with the feedback, showing appreciation matters.

How can informal feedback strengthen/harm workplaces?

If you’re a business leader who wants to boost productivity and help employees unlock their potential, informal feedback lets you correct and praise employee’s efforts in a low-stress way. Informal feedback can also build trust between you and your employees, creating a workplace where people aren’t afraid to ask questions and be honest about their struggles.

Offered carelessly or at the wrong moment, though, informal feedback could harm your workplace. Be extra careful you don’t share informal feedback that:

  • Sounds too bleak. You might discourage employees.

  • Sounds too harsh. Employees might get set in their ways out of spite.

  • Is confusing. If employees don’t understand your feedback, they might make brand new mistakes.

  • Is shared unevenly. If you only give informal feedback to extroverted, high-profile employees, quieter employees may keep making mistakes in the background.

  • Is hard to document. If you can’t keep track of what feedback you offered to whom, you may fail to follow up on employees who need extra feedback.

To master the conversational skills needed to offer good informal feedback, try the interview prep service on Career.io.

Key takeaways

  1. Formal feedback is structured and pre-planned, while most informal feedback is  spontaneous and freeform.

  2. Offer informal feedback to your employees as soon as you notice their mistakes.

  3. When you receive informal feedback, listen earnestly, ask constructive questions, and show gratitude for the advice.

  4. When you offer informal feedback, be honest with employees about why their mistakes are harmful, praise their efforts, and be clear about how they can improve.

  5. Good informal feedback improves workplace performance and strengthens trust between employees, while poor informal feedback can confuse employees or damage their confidence.

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