Giving Constructive Feedback—What It Actually Is and How to Do It Correctly.

Before we begin analyzing each of the tips individually, let’s briefly touch upon what constructive feedback is. Feedback, as a whole, is a commentary on performance. That generally means that it can be both positive and negative in nature. Constructive feedback, as its name suggests, encourages employees to do their best work by taking note of past actions that could have been done differently. In a sense, feedback is an act of love. We give it because we care about the person and want them to succeed.

The line between such feedback and criticism is thin, so paying attention to the tips below is especially important if nurturing a positive workplace atmosphere, along with improving productivity, is the ultimate goal.

Also, most important, feedback needs to be couched in the recipient’s value system, what matters to them, and their goals. Otherwise, you are just giving opinions, and those tend to push people away. Feedback should be about the progress they are or are not making in achieving their goals, not your opinion about them or their performance. Opinion pushes people away, makes them defensive, or invites an argument. Feedback invites them in.  

#1 Preparation Matters

Preparation Matters

When part of the job hasn’t been done properly, emotions could overwhelm you and cause you to say everything on your mind there and then. However, that is often not the best approach since, in the heat of the moment, opinions rather than feedback might be said. The whole point of constructive feedback, as already mentioned, is to motivate an individual to do better. If you are too quick to expound your opinion, they will probably get discouraged and make a mistake all over again. 

That’s why preparing for the employee’s conversation is essential. Make a script and adhere to it as much as possible to prevent yourself from saying anything you didn’t plan on saying.

And remember, as much as possible, make it about them achieving their goals, not only about your standards. Of course, if you are catching them doing something right, feel free to quickly compliment them on their success as long as you can easily relate it to their goals.

#2 Provide Feedback as Soon as Possible

If an employee has made a mistake, it’s important to inform them of it as soon as possible. Otherwise, the risk of repeating the mistake in the meantime runs high, and they may assume that all is well. Too often leaders will say nothing all year and then offload their criticism at the annual review meeting with statements like “you always…,” which is the worst practice.

#3 Giving Constructive Feedback Should Be a Regular Occurrence

Giving Constructive Feedback Should Be a Regular Occurrence

Instead of being a one-off thing, giving feedback with the purpose of helping employees succeed should be done on a regular basis. For instance, you could make it a habit to hold weekly or monthly meetings with your team members. The topic of the meeting could be precisely the things that were done properly and those that could have been done a bit better.

#4 Don’t Beat Around the Bush

One thing that the leadership at has learned from years of experience in handling employees and customers is that it’s important to be as direct as possible. Don’t beat around the bush. Discuss concrete actions only and get to the point rather than talking about everything in general.

When I took a leadership course at the Center for Creative Leadership many years ago, they taught us a very simple but valuable feedback technique called SBI, Situation-Behavior-Impact. SBI is a direct way of giving feedback that keeps the message focused on the actions and not opinions. Here is an example of how to apply this tool:

Situation: Where I observed you – This morning at our staff meeting

Behavior: The behavior I observed – While discussing the marketing plan, you cut off the speaker, inserted your comments, and didn’t allow for a discussion or disagreement.

Impact: The impact your behavior had on me or what I observed in others – Your comments made me feel uncomfortable in responding, and I saw other team members roll their eyes.  

#5 Emphasize Positive Things

Emphasize Positive Things

Don’t open the conversation by mentioning something the person isn’t good at. Instead, focus on the positives. Compliment them for the actions they have taken so far that have brought great results. Starting the conversation on a positive note will help the employee feel comfortable and valued. As a result, they should be able to better accept the constructive feedback that’s about to come their way… and of course, in the end, learn from it.

#6 Don’t Overwhelm Your Employees

There might be a number of things that you would like to discuss, but should you discuss all of them at once? While you certainly could, we don’t necessarily encourage you to do so. You are better off sticking to a maximum of two to three topics. This will make it simpler for the other party to remember the points that you have talked about. It will also give them a bit of time to process everything and implement the suggested ideas. Once they have corrected the initial mistakes, you can move on to discussing the other ones. While you’re at it, also remember to praise them for the area in which they have improved.

It’s of high significance that you gradually provide feedback, as that’s precisely what will prevent people from thinking that everything they are doing is wrong. Remember, the whole point of this is to motivate employees. In no way should they feel as if they aren’t a valuable asset to the company!

#7 Put Yourself in the Employee’s Shoes and Listen to Their Opinion

Don’t immediately assume that just because you believe that something is correct, it actually is. The individual might have been right to do what they have done all along. In fact, it could be you who’s wrong. That said, it’s important to look at things from the employee’s perspective when giving constructive feedback. Allow them to explain why they have taken one approach, despite you believing they should have taken another. Let them ask you questions as well. This will help you better understand them and their actions. On another note, the whole sharing of feedback should be a two-way conversation. It isn’t and should never be a monologue.

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