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Developmental Feedback Conversation Guide

Few performance leaders feel comfortable leading developmental feedback conversations. But developmental feedback can be just as motivating as positive feedback when it’s given skillfully.

Few performance leaders feel comfortable leading developmental feedback conversations. But developmental feedback can be just as motivating as positive feedback when it’s given skillfully. This is because:

  • It gives us the information we need to take our performance to the next level.
  • The sooner we know what’s not working, the quicker we can minimize its impact.
  • It galvanizes us into action.

As performance leaders, the better we can manage our own anxiety and frustrations in these conversations the quicker we can help our people tap into these benefits. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember your aim is a positive one. Your purpose is to help your team member to be their best. That’s a good thing.
  • Don’t “own” the conversation. Your role is not to solve the problem or do the thinking for people. It’s to help them develop their own insights so that they can make more informed choices for themselves about what action they wish to take.
  • Manage any tendency to catastrophize. Work hard at making your first reaction one of assuming your staff have good intentions and have done their best. If it turns out that they haven’t done their best, it’s easy to have another conversation about why that is, just avoid going in too heavy-handed at the start.
  • Privately let off steam. We’re all human. Sometimes we just need to vent our feelings. While you’re venting, however, include a few questions about why the situation might have occurred. This will help you begin to think the issue through from your team member’s point of view.

How to structure positive feedback using CEDAR

Knowing how to navigate your way through the conversation will help you feel calmer and more confident. It will also help the conversation to be as productive as possible. As with positive feedback conversations, follow the five-step CEDAR feedback model:

Here’s how to use the steps to lead your developmental feedback conversations.


  • Introduce the topic. Welcome your team member warmly, give them time to settle and draw breath, then raise the topic. Be prepared with the words you need because these set both the aim and the tone.
  • Explain the impact. Check that they understand the significance for the team, unit, or customers. As soon as you can see they get it, however, move on.
  • Ask for their view. For example, what were they hoping to achieve? What actually happened?
  • Be supportive. Show that you trust they were striving to do their best, reassure them that they’re a valuable team member, and emphasize their ability to handle the issue.


  • Explore enough examples together so that they understand the gap between their actual performance and what was needed.
  • Group the examples together rather than drip-feed them one by one. This will help them to recognize the full impact right away.
  • Don’t make it all about you even If you were affected. It won’t help the emotional temperature to say, “You’re making my job difficult” or, “I was disappointed by your behavior.” The aim is change, not reprisal.


  • Explore their insights about why the situation occurred. Analyze the wider reasons before looking at the team member’s own behavior.
  • Listen for what’s below the surface. The term “diagnosis” may sound as if you’re on the hunt for hard clinical facts, but often the most valuable insights come from exploring the underlying emotions.
  • Be curious and patient. There’s usually a lot to think about during a feedback discussion and it’s tempting to make quick decisions about the reasons behind something. The danger here is that the diagnosis might not be accurate, meaning that the resulting action plan probably won’t be right either.


  • Ask what actions they want to take. Help the team member to think through how they can address the current gap or respond differently next time. Encourage them to be as concrete and specific as possible. The clearer the overall plan, the more likely people are to follow it.
  • Ask how you can support them. Most plans will need some back-up from you, such as coaching, extra information, or simply being available when your team member needs advice. If they suggest actions that you can’t support, explain why not.
  • Offer suggestions where necessary. In some instances, your guidance will be essential, just don’t offer it too early.


To follow up during the conversation:

  • Ask your team member when you’ll next check in together. Make this as concrete as possible by putting a date in your calendar. If an alternative date is necessary, explain why.
  • Show confidence in their ability to move the situation forward. Encourage your team member to view setbacks and frustrations as part of the learning process rather than the result of some immutable personal flaw.

And to follow up after the conversation:

  • Touch base in the next few days. Your ongoing attention will send a strong message about the importance of completing those actions.
  • Provide opportunities to practice new skills, especially if the stakes are high.
  • Give recognition for progress and let them know that their hard work is taking them in the right direction.
  • If they stumble, help them dust themselves down. Encourage them to think about their end goal and how their efforts will help them. And, of course, give your support where needed.

Final thought

You need feedback, too, of course. But staff can often feel intimidated about asking their boss to do things differently, or, it must be said, to give them praise. Either way, this means you’re likely to lose out on invaluable learning.

Help your people develop skills in giving upwards feedback. Teaching a few simple techniques can make sure that you get to hear these messages. Tips on how to do this are on the back of the Positive Feedback Conversation Guide for team members.


Developmental Feedback Conversation Guide for managers
Developmental Feedback Conversation Guide for team members
For more help see Now You’re Talking!
The manager’s complete handbook to leading great conversations at work – even the tough ones
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