Providing feedback isn’t scary, if you remember these two acronyms.

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Happy Halloween! In honor of the ghostly day, let’s focus on something that is scary for a lot of people — giving feedback.

Many managers, especially introverts, tend to shy away from giving feedback to employees because they’re nervous about how the person will react. Others are afraid because they aren’t sure how to give feedback in a way that’s helpful.

The two acronyms I like to use to help me remember how to provide feedback are “T.H.I.N.K.” and “S.M.A.R.T.” Before I give feedback, I usually say this phrase in my head several times: Think smart. Think smart. Think smart.

The first acronym refers to an anonymous saying that’s been around for many years. It’s about remembering to “think” before speaking by asking yourself:

T = Is it true?

H = Is it helpful?

I = Is it inspiring?

N = Is it necessary?

K = Is it kind?

The “think” acronym helps me stay focused on being compassionate during the feedback discussion. It’s also a great reminder that not all feedback is actually feedback. Sometimes what we think is feedback is really just a personal opinion — and it’s important to separate out opinions (which are often better kept to ourselves) from constructive feedback.

The second acronym you’ll probably remember from goal-setting exercises, because it’s the process used to set smart goals. This acronym can also be used as a guide for providing feedback. Here’s how.

S = Specific. Be as specific as possible when providing feedback: “I have a concern I’d like to discuss with you. During today’s project team meeting, when Jane provided her suggestion, you responded by telling her it was a stupid idea.”

M = Measurable. Describe the noticeable results/feelings/reactions: “After your response to her idea, Jane stopped participating in the rest of the meeting because you embarrassed her in front of her peers.”

A = Achievable or Actionable. Ask how the person could have handled the situation differently: “What are some other ways you could have responded to Jane that wouldn’t have caused her to feel that way?” (or “… wouldn’t have caused her to stop participating in the meeting?”)

R = Relevant. Include a lesson that is relevant to the situation: “To be a good people leader, it’s important that everyone on the project team feel comfortable sharing their ideas. This means encouraging each member of the team to speak up, and then responding in ways that don’t make anyone feel bad. During the next meeting, I’d like to see you practice a positive approach.”

T = Timely. Provide feedback as close as possible after an incident. That’s because the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be for the person to connect their poor behavior with your feedback.

Lisa Quast, columnist for The Seattle Times Jobs
Lisa Quast, columnist for The Seattle Times Jobs

The next time you are about to provide feedback, stop. Then remind yourself to think smart.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.