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My Pithy Feedback Challenge

Think back to the feedback you’ve received, over time, that has had a dramatic impact on your work, your life, and your performance. Now think about the context.

I suspect the examples that came to mind were NOT when you were called to a meeting and received a scripted three or five-step formulaic conversation at performance review time.

It has been the “in the moment” and sincerely offered conversations that shed light on a situation and my role within it. And for me, helpful feedback included both constructive (ways to improve my performance) and appreciative (reinforcing what is working).


My experience is backed by research showing the benefits of FREQUENT,  timely, and specific feedback. Performance improves. High performers are encouraged and reach new heights. People align around goals. They feel valued. There is ongoing learning.

Yet most employees live in feedback deserts, where helpful feedback is doled out sparingly and often only when mandated by a performance management system.


I think that happens for a number of reasons, but allow me to share one:

We make giving feedback harder
than it needs to be


Using our feedback desert metaphor, what might happen if instead of thinking of feedback as a dam (hold it in until the dam breaks or there is a scheduled release) to a drip irrigation system? Providing little bits of feedback in a continuous stream over time, rather than a deluge?

In fact, I’d suggest that just adding one more sentence to our everyday conversations can do the trick!

Think about providing short observations, merely a quick reflection back, that can help people see what is working and what is not.


Here are some examples of pithy appreciative feedback.

  • This report was well organized.
  • Your discussion pulled in everyone.
  • This project was completed on time.
  • That was a helpful conversation.
  • I trust your opinion.
  • Your points are helpful.


Some examples of pithy constructive feedback:

  • This report is hard to follow.
  • This project is two weeks late.
  • Only a few got to speak in the meeting you led.
  • The discussion wandered without clear action items.
  • Sharing your logic would be helpful.


Notice that pithy feedback is observational. Make the observation and then trust the person will either make the appropriate correction OR repeat the behaviors that are working.

For just making these observations is indeed feedback. This pithy feedback does not require a more extended conversation or for you to “fix” the situation. Instead, it allows the other person to step into their own agency and take appropriate action.

Pithy feedback does need to be timely and specific. It does not always need to lead into a longer discussion, although it may be helpful with constructive feedback to ask: How might you do this differently?


A few notes:

  • There is a time and place for more thoughtful, focused, and in-depth conversations. However, using the simple drip method negates the need for many longer performance conversations because you make micro-adjustments over time.
  • Tone and intention matter. If you are not offering your feedback with a sincere desire to help someone improve their performance, turn off the hose!


So I challenge you (and me, too) to offer pithy feedback five times in the coming week. As we all know, the doing, not the thinking, matters!

If fact, you can practice now. Provide me some pithy feedback in the comment section! I’d sure appreciate it.

5 Responses

  1. Kris, I truly enjoyed this blog. I accept the challenge to add one more sentence at least 5X in the coming week.

  2. This is excellent, Kris. We observe that many leaders save all of their employee feedback for quarterly conversations or annual reviews when it’s much harder to connect the feedback to the behavior and therefore way harder to modify or improve behavior. Thank you for this pithy teaching!

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