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Last updated: 22.06.21

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback doesn’t necessarily mean criticism. It’s actually a method of delivering advice and observations about someone’s behaviour or performance that focuses on bringing about positive change and helping individuals to reflect on their actions to improve them.

Giving positive and constructive feedback can sometimes be tricky, as it is important to remain unbiased and open to discussion. In this article, we’ve broken down the key methods and features of having constructive conversations, along with the benefits of delivering it and why it is so important.

What is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is a kind of feedback that focuses on highlighting areas of improvement instead of negative aspects.

Nobody likes to receive criticism, and if you’re in a management position then delivering critiques or suggestions for improvement can be one of the hardest parts of your job. Constructive feedback is a better way of giving difficult feedback so that you don’t sound too harsh or dismissive and instead frame the suggestion as a chance to improve.

Constructive feedback can also just be suggestions or guidance to help an employee who is already performing well to do even better.

The intentions of constructive feedback are always positive, which is what differentiates it from critical feedback. When you give this kind of feedback, you should follow it up with suggestions for improving or changing a situation to focus on the positives and encourage constant growth and improvement.

What are the Benefits of Constructive Feedback?

Giving constructive feedback can sometimes be difficult, but there are a variety of benefits that you should bear in mind and focus on instead of avoiding difficult conversations.

First of all, research has actually found that most people prefer to be given suggestive and constructive feedback instead of simply positive praise. This is because it is much more helpful and leads to more constructive conversations that are better for both individual and business growth.

Instead of giving vaguely positive feedback for the sake of it, constructive feedback methods also mean that employees have a much better idea of how they are performing and more realistic expectations for the future.

Another benefit of giving constructive feedback is that the person delivering it is often viewed as more straightforward and genuine. When you are in a management position you want people to respect you and feel that you are going to be honest with them, and giving simple and realistic feedback is a brilliant way to ensure this.

Of course, one of the most obvious benefits of constructive feedback is that it leads to positive change and growth. By highlighting areas where you want an employee to change their behaviour or processes, you can help them to improve, continue to develop in their role and get better at reflecting on their own performance and identifying what can be worked on.

Having employees who are open to constructive feedback and willing to respond to suggestions for improvement also leads to a workforce who are focused on reaching their full potential and want to keep getting better at what they do. This is beneficial for any company or organisation as you create a culture that encourages growth and views any critical feedback as an opportunity to improve.

How to Provide Constructive Feedback

Create a Safe Environment

When you’re going to be delivering constructive feedback that might focus on something someone has done badly, it is best if you create an environment that feels safe and supportive before you do so. This will mean that the person you are talking to feels more comfortable and relaxed, and also that the feedback will feel less like an attack and more like an opportunity for a productive conversation.

Be Prepared

If you’re giving constructive feedback then you need to go into the conversation prepared. 

In order to deliver your feedback most effectively, don’t just begin with a rough idea of what you want to say. Particularly if you are in an employee review meeting, you should have all the points you want to mention written down so that you include everything important and will also be more prepared to answer any questions that the other person may have.

Make it 1-on-1

One of the most important things to remember when deciding how to give feedback constructively is that you should always do it in person, on a 1-to-1 level. Receiving critical or constructive feedback is sometimes difficult, and you’ll make the other person feel more at ease if it is only the two of you in the conversation.

It’s also always a lot better to deliver constructive feedback in person, rather than on a video call. Wherever possible, talking in person makes it a lot easier to read the other person’s reaction and respond in the best way when finding solutions moving forward.

Start with Positives

You’ve probably heard of a feedback sandwich, which involves delivering a piece of criticism in between two pieces of praise to try and soften the blow. Whilst this method is sometimes criticised for involving unhelpful or pointless feedback for the sake of being nice, it can be useful to begin a conversation involving constructive criticism with something positive, as long as it is relevant.

This shouldn’t be to try and butter up the person you are talking to, but instead set a more positive tone for the conversation and indicate that there are things they are doing well.

Lead with your Intentions

When you are giving constructive feedback, it’s important to begin by stating your intentions for the conversation. This is important whether you are having a general discussion about somebody’s progress or are talking about a specific incident or behaviour that needs highlighting or improving.

This is a key method of effectively giving constructive feedback because it prepares the other person for everything that is coming and stops them from worrying about the purpose of the conversation by establishing this right at the start.

Observations, not Interpretations

When considering how to give positive and constructive feedback, always remember to focus on observations instead of interpretations. If you are discussing an action or behaviour, you will come across as less critical if you impartially explain what you have seen happening, instead of what you believe to be going on.

This is very important as it gives the other person a chance to explain their version of events before you make any assumptions, and means that the plan you make for improvement will be more accurate and likely to work.

Avoid Making it Personal

Leading on from that last piece of advice, try and avoid making constructive feedback personal and instead focus on the issue you are dealing with. For example, if someone is consistently making errors in their work, focus on where these have been made and how to avoid them in the future, rather than implying that the person is disorganised or careless.

This reduces the risk that the other person will get upset or hurt and leads to much more productive conversations.

Be Specific

Many employees consistently state that being given vague or generic feedback is one of the most frustrating parts of their job. If you want to bring about change from your constructive conversation, focus on specific things that are going well or need improvement so that the other person knows exactly what they should work on. This means that employees have an accurate idea of their performance and know what else is expected of them. 

Specifics are needed when you are making plans for moving forward as well. Ensure that you have identified exactly what needs to be done to improve, make detailed plans and give the other person an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.

Focus on a Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset can make all the difference when you are giving constructive feedback. It’s something that you should encourage in all employees and bear in mind when thinking about how to give advice or lead a reflective conversation.

A growth mindset is a state of mind that means you view failures or setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow instead of an indication that you have failed. People with growth mindsets believe that they can do anything if they put the work in, and are constantly looking for chances to do better and learn something new.

One of the key features of constructive feedback is that it should lead to growth, and encouraging a growth mindset in these conversations is a great way to do this. Instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong or could be going better, frame these points as chances where the other person can learn from their behaviour or actions and avoid doing the same thing in the future. 

Allow a Response

A constructive feedback session should be an equal conversation, not a lecture. Once you have delivered all the points you planned, ensure that you give the person you are talking to a chance to respond and listen to how they feel. This helps them to feel more included in the conversation and can bring up points or perspectives that you may not have considered.

Focus on Solutions

The most important thing you should include in a constructive conversation is a plan for what is going to happen next. Instead of dwelling on mistakes or areas that need improvement, focus the conversation on what can be done in the future to develop and how exactly the other person is going to do this.

As the facilitator of the conversation, you must ensure that the conversation ends with a plan in place, and that you have given advice for the next steps if the other person has been unsure. 

Finish with a Summary

All successful meetings end with a summary of everything that has been discussed and what is going to be taken forward, and a constructive feedback discussion is no different.

Finish the conversation by recapping what you have discussed and why you felt it was important to bring up, and then go over the plan of action that you have developed to help the person you are speaking to make progress. This ensures that you both are on the same page when the conversation ends, and that the other person knows what they need to do going forward.

FAQs

What is constructive feedback in the workplace?

In a workplace environment, constructive feedback is any kind of feedback you are given that comes with suggestions for how you can improve or what you should have or can do better. It is a common feature of quarterly reviews or appraisals, but may also be given if something specific has happened at work that requires intervention. 

Why is it important to give constructive feedback?

It is important to give constructive feedback in the place of negative feedback as it avoids severely hurting anyone’s feelings and means that a more equal conversation can be had. Constructive feedback also encourages positive growth and change instead of discouraging someone’s behaviour, which is a much more productive way to have a conversation and ensures that the same problems don’t occur again.

How do you respond to constructive feedback?

If you are the one receiving constructive feedback, the best thing you can remember is to try not to get defensive or angry. The person delivering the feedback is doing so because they want to help you progress, so the best thing you can do is view it as an opportunity to learn and improve and avoid any negativity.

Summary

Constructive feedback should not be seen as a critical conversation, but instead an honest and open opportunity to understand performance and nurture a growth mindset. Almost everyone will have to deliver constructive criticism at some point, whether formally or informally, and knowing what to say and how to approach the conversation is vital.

If you’d like to find out more, we offer a ‘Giving Constructive Feedback’ online course that covers key feedback models and gives advice for getting the most out of constructive conversations.

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