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Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

What can you say to your employees and how can you say it?
Where can you give and receive feedback?
How can you bring out the best in your staff?
How do you handle difficult issues without inflaming the situation?
How do you respond to negative feedback yourself?
These are common questions, many of them reflecting frustration and fear of dealing with the hard stuff of managing people.
But giving constructive feedback to employees doesnt have to be difficult.
Positive feedback, when you tell people theyve done well, should be easy. or e!ample"
thanking people for doing a #ob well
commending them for solving a problem for you
discussing progress with teams and praising their commitment
celebrating successes when everyones combined efforts have paid off
This is the kind of feedback that everyone likes$ the kind that motivates people to perform well consistently. %ere are some
more practical strategies for improving feedback at work.
Give Feedback to Encourage Employees
&ive feedback to encourage people to continue putting'in great effort, or to help them through setbacks, or when people lack
confidence or skills. (espect people for the value of their time, their work and their commitment. )how your respect with
words that make employees feel good.
Try saying, Youre right! when someone successfully challenges an idea or work practice. Ask,
Can you spare a few minutes when you need to interrupt someone at work. Then wait for the
positi!e reactions.
Use Feedback to vercome !egativity
* leader must remain optimistic at all times, but how can you convert negativity into something positive+ ,hen someone
says, -Thats a stupid idea./ you could respond, -%ow could we change it to make it more realistic+/
Coaching is the "est Feedback
0oaching is the best kind of feedback. 0oaching is based on mutual respect, strict confidentiality and trust. * coach believes
that people are able to change the way they operate and achieve more if they are given the opportunity and are willing to do
something about it.
1uestioning is a fundamental skill of coaching. * coach asks questions to"
assess where the person might need help
discover how s2he can best help
help people find solutions for themselves.
#urn Criticism into Constructive Feedback
*void feedback that however unintentionally critici3es the employee rather than their actions. 4f you leave them feeling
humiliated and resentful, they will be even more reluctant to change. 5ou cant ignore the problem if something is obviously
wrong, but there is a difference between criticism and constructive feedback.
Talking about a -bad attitude/ is unlikely to be helpful because the person wont know what they need to change. Telling
someone they are incompetent or la3y is a personal attack on their character and will probably lead to an emotional response.
0onstructive criticism means starting from a different position. 5our criticism should be factual, impersonal and timely. The
value of changing their behavior must also be clear. 5ou might say, -This week 4ve noticed youve been late to three sales
briefings and now you want to leave early today for a dental appointment. ,hen you behave so casually the rest of the team
feel resentful and tomorrow someone will have to do your work for you. )o what can we do about it+/ 6ow heres a chance
for the person to respond.
Giving Feedback in $eally %ifficult &ituations
)ome situations may have you feeling an!ious and finding the right words to say at that moment may not come easily. )o,
ne!t time you are about to face a really difficult situation, try this four'step plan"
7. Prepare yourself 8 checking facts and positions, dealing with feelings.
9. *pproach the situation constructively 8 using the right words that you have prepared.
:. ;eal with e!cuses 8 respectfully.
<. =ake sure people can do what they say they will.
Encouraging Feedback from thers
;o you listen when your staffs complain about a customer or a situation+ >r do you dismiss their comments because they
havent happened to you+ *s a business owner or manager you need feedback to find out immediately if something is wrong,
or to hear what a customer has said, or if relationships are growing tense.
Try listening to your staff, actively listening, even though your schedule is full and business is frantic, and see how trust
'ccepting !egative Feedback
6egative feedback+ 4ts a little like letting the genie out of the bottle and then finding you cant put it back. %owever,
accepting negative feedback gracefully and gratefully is a skill of great leadership. (emember, though, other people may not
know how to give negative feedback diplomatically, like you have. )o take a deep breath and swallow your pride.
5ou may find these guidelines useful when receiving negative feedback.
?isten without interruption 8 you may learn something of real value.
4f you hear something you dont agree with, simply say, -Thats interesting./ and discuss it at the end.
*sk questions to clarify what e!actly went wrong$ what you did or didnt do.
*cknowledge what is true, but dont necessarily change your position 8 you may have good reasons for your
Before taking any action, ask for time to think and then get back to the person.
0an feedback really help to improve working relationships and productivity+ (emember, feedback doesnt always have to be
negative. )tart by looking for occasions when you can give positive feedback and remember to plan carefully for the occasions
when you have to give negative feedback 8 and make it constructive. Try some of these ideas and see what happens.
Feedback is an important yet often overlooked part of the communication process( Compliments) strokes) and other
positive feedback can be motivating and greatly appreciated( Feedback can also be motivating and appreciated when it
takes the form of constructive criticism(
,e give feedback to reinforce positive behavior and to point out negative behavior. Positive feedback can be a powerful
motivator and self'esteem booster. 4t is more effective than criticism in inducing change. -6egative/ feedback should be
constructive. @ffectively delivered feedback can lead to changes in attitude and behavior while maintaining a healthy
eedback is an important yet often overlooked part of the communication process. ;ifferent individuals will interpret feedback
differently. 5ou must take care when giving feedback to minimi3e the chance that the receiver will take it the wrong way.
The following tips can make your feedback more effective.
Choose an appropriate time and place. ;o not wait until <"<A on riday afternoon, when your subordinate may be thinking
about the weekend. 0hoose a comfortable location for delivering feedback. 5our office may be intimidating, so consider
meeting in your subordinates office or on neutral ground.
#hink about what you are going to say. 5ou do not want to alienate your subordinate by phrasing your comments in a way
that offends or upsets her. Think of a few approaches and anticipate how each is likely to be received. 0hoose the best one and
rehearse it a few times. Beep a few alternatives in mind, be fle!ible, and be ready to check your assumptions and give her a
fair hearing.
%escribe specific behaviors. Be ob#ective and stick to verifiable facts, not general tendencies or personal traits. ;o not #udge
or in#ect your opinion into your statement. or e!ample"
"ad* -5ou have a poor attitude./
Good* -4 notice youve been curt with some of the staff this morning./
The speaker in the first e!ample above is #udgmental and assumes something that may not be true. The comment is so vague it
cannot be helpful, and so negative it can only make the recipient feel bad. * general statement is meaningless and a
#udgmental one is offensive. >ffer specific e!amples so the feedback is meaningful.
4n the second e!ample the speaker refers to specific behaviors she has observed. )he does not #ump to the conclusion that the
behavior reflects a poor attitude, and she invites discussion to determine what the reason for the behavior might be. This can
lead to a fruitful understanding without putting the receiver on the defensive.
&tate the impact of the problem behavior. ;escribe the positive consequences of change and the negative consequences of
not changing. or e!ample"
-4 see that you have sent out the invoices late this month as well as last. This slows down our cash flow. )ending out the
invoices on time means we get paid sooner, so we can meet our own obligations on time. ?ets discuss how we can insure that
the invoices go out on time from now on./
"e clear about your reason for giving the feedback. ,hy are you offering the feedback+ ,hat do you hope to accomplish
by offering it+ ,hat are the consequences for your subordinate if he adopts your suggestions, and if he doesnt+ Be sure that it
will help.
+imit constructive ,negative- feedback. 4n small doses constructive feedback can be welcome and beneficial. 4n larger doses
it is demorali3ing. 6o matter how much improvement is needed, offer feedback in manageable chunks. 6ot only is too much
constructive feedback at once less likely to be assimilated, the receiver may be discouraged from acting on it at all.
'lways give some positive feedback. >ne way to soften the sting of constructive feedback is to combine it with some
positive feedback. 4n the receivers mind a message of positive and constructive feedback combined is better than one of
purely constructive feedback. >f course, if you regularly combine positive and constructive feedback together the receiver
may think -6othing 4 do is ever good enough,/ so make sure you give feedback on some occasions that is pure praise.
%o not compare the receiver with another person. 4t is tempting to compare the person you are giving feedback to with a
person who e!emplifies the behavior you would like to see. %owever, no one likes to be compared unfavorably with another
person. @veryone is different.
(ather than compare person * with person B, compare person *s behavior or performance with his target or some other
ob#ective standard.
Critici.e in private and praise in public. 6o one likes to be humiliated in front of other people, and even a minor suggestion
can be humiliating when made in public. >n the other hand, the impact of positive feedback is magnified when offered in the
presence of others. @ven those who profess to dislike attention secretly en#oy it when it makes them look good.
/dentify solutions. *sk your subordinate to propose a solution to the problem, or arrive at one #ointly. 4mposing your own
solution should be a last resort. ,hen the person receiving the feedback has some input into the solution he is more likely to
change. *fter all, it was his idea.
Commit to a plan) with deadlines and evaluation criteria. ;iscussing solutions is not enough. @ven agreeing on a plan is
not enough. Both parties must understand what is e!pected and be committed to the plan. %ow will you know when the
problem is solved+ The plan must have a deadline or timetable and clear evaluation criteria. ;o not assume the other person
can read your mind. Both parties must agree on who is to do what, by when, and how.
0rovide support. ;oes your subordinate have the resources and moral support required+ Both parties have an interest in a
successful outcome. ;o your part by providing training, guidance, additional feedback, and encouragement so your
subordinate feels you are behind him.
Follow through. *gree on a future date to revisit the matter to ensure the plan is e!ecuted, and determine what went wrong if
it isnt.
Giving Constructive Feedback
Performance feedback can be given two ways" through constructive feedback or through praise and criticism. ;onCt fall
into the trap of giving praise and criticism on employee performance.
0onstructive feedback is information'specific, issue'focused, and based on observations. 4t comes in two
D Positive feedback is news or input to an employee about an effort well done.
D 6egative feedback is news to an employee about an effort that needs improvement. 6egative feedback doesnCt mean a
terrible performance, but rather a performance in which the outcomes delivered should be better. )o negative is not a
negative word in this case.
Praise and criticism are both personal #udgments about a performance effort or outcome, with praise being a
favorable #udgment and criticism, an unfavorable #udgment. 4nformation given is general and vague, focused on
the person, and based on opinions or feelings.
The guidelines for giving constructive feedback fall into four categories" content, manner, timing, and frequency.
0ontent is what you say in the constructive feedback.
1( /n your first sentence) identify the topic or issue that the feedback will be about(
2( 0rovide the specifics of what occurred(
,ithout the specifics, you only have praise or criticism. )tart each key point with an E4E message, such as, E4 have
noticed,E E4 have observed,E E4 have seen,E or when the need e!ists to pass on feedback from others, E4 have had
reported to me.E E4E messages help you be issue'focused and get into the specifics.
=anner is how you say the constructive feedback. *s you may know, how you say something often carries more
weight than what you have to say F manner is an important element when giving feedback.
"e direct when delivering your message( &et to the point and avoid beating around the bush. Both negative
and positive feedback should be given in a straightforward manner.
'void 4need to4 phrases) which send implied messages that something that didn5t go well( or e!ample,
EGane, you need to get your reports turned in on time, and you need to spell check them.E This message is not
really performance feedback. 4t implies that Gane did not do something well with her reports, but it doesnCt report
e!actly what happened. Providing clarity on what occurred is the aim of feedback.
"e sincere and avoid giving mi6ed messages( )incerity says that you mean what you say with care and
respect. =i!ed messages are referred to as Eyes, butE messages. or e!ample, EGohn, you have worked hard on
this pro#ect, but. . . .E ,hat follows is something the person is not doing well and is the real point of the message.
The word Ebut,E along with its cousins EhoweverE and Ealthough,E when said in the middle of a thought, create
contradictions or mi!ed messages. 4n essence, putting EbutE in the middle tells the other person, E;onCt believe a
thing 4 said before.E
/n positive feedback situations) e6press appreciation( *ppreciation alone is praise. 5et when you add it to
the specifics of constructive feedback, your message carries an e!tra oomph of sincerity.
or e!ample" E)ue, your handling of all the processing work while Gohn did the callbacks made for an efficient effort
and showed good teamwork. @verything you did was accurate, as well. Thanks so much for helping out. )uch
initiative is a real value to the team.E
/n negative feedback situations) e6press concern( * tone of concern communicates a sense of importance
and care and provides the appropriate level of sincerity to the message. Tones such as anger, frustration,
disappointment, and the ever'popular sarcasm tend to color the language of the message and turn attempts at
negative feedback into criticism. The content of the message gets lost in the noise and harshness.
The purpose of negative feedback is to create awareness that can lead to correction or improvement in performance.
4f you canCt give negative feedback in a helpful manner, in the language and tone of concern, you defeat its purpose.
Give the feedback person7to7person) not through messengers of technology( The nature of constructive
feedback is verbal and informal. That can be done only by talking live to the employee, either face'to'face F or
by phone when you physically canCt be together.
&tate observations) not interpretations( >bservations are what you see occur$ interpretations are your
analysis or opinion of what you see occur. Tell what youCve noticed, not what you think of it, and report the
behavior you notice at a concrete level, instead of as a characteri3ation of the behavior. >bservations have a far
more factual and non#udgmental aspect than do interpretations.
Timing answers this question" ,hen do you give an employee feedback for a performance effort worth
The answer is *)*P Has soon as possibleI. eedback is meant to be given in real'time, as close as possible to when the
performance incident occurs so that the events are fresh in everyoneCs minds. ,hen feedback is given well after the
fact, the value of the constructive feedback is lessened.
,hen giving negative feedback, you may want to apply a different timeline"
*)*( Has soon as reasonable2ready F that is, when you're readyI. )ometimes
when an incident happens, you arenCt feeling too good about it, and you need
time to cool off and get your thoughts in order before you give negative
feedback Hso that your manner displays a tone of concernI. ;oing that may mean
giving the feedback tomorrow rather than right now, but tomorrow is still
timely, and your feedback will come across as far more constructive.
requency answers the question, E%ow often should your employees receive constructive feedback on their
This last guideline is the most important because it makes all the other guidelines work. Jse constructive feedback
regularly to acknowledge real performance. Try to catch and respond to employees doing the #ob right #ust as much as
you catch and respond to them doing something not quite right F and donCt acknowledge how they are performing only
once or twice a year.
Be sure to keep notes on the performance feedback that you give. 4t helps you
track whatCs happening in peopleCs performance rather than relying on your
%ow does a manager deliver constructive feedback+ ?et us begin with the word feedback. The concept of feedback, to me. is
to share what has been observed in a way that is not viewed as negative critici3m. %ow about constructive+ )ame thing...what
is shared must have value to the person getting the feedback. ?etCs e!amine a few suggestions that 4 have shared in
management development seminars 4Cve facilitated"
7I Begin with a base of humility, vulnerability and e!perience. %ow+ @!amine the mistakes and wrong decisions you have
made in the past. Jse this basis as a way to connect with humility and with the best interests of the employee in mind. 4f able
to do that, you deduct the invincibility factor be leaving the ego at home.
9I *void knee #erk reaction. ;onCt react to every mistake you see. 4 have seen great communication coaches who look for
patterns in behavior and decision making. ,hen a pattern persists, be accurate and precise in what you have observed.
:I Practice empathy. Place yourself in the position of the other person. (emember when you have been upset at the unskillful
ways managers have delivered criticism. @mployees receive feedback, madly or sadly based on the their defensiveness and
also based on the managerCs inability to show how the feedback will help them develop. The employee will receive your
feedback gladly if they are open and you are skillful.
<I Be )pecific and 0oncrete. Please donCt offer feedback without providing the employee a way to right what you see as
wrong. Please be specific as to how their mistakes is costing the department in terms of effectiveness, productivity and bottom
line profit.
AI Be a 0oach. This process begins by how the annual performance review is handled. 4f the process concentrates on the past
only, you fail to gain a connection basis for the future. 4f you set mutual goals with the employee, you establish a basis in
which to provide periodic feedback on progress or the lack thereof.
KI Be =indful of the employeeCs temperament. Beware of the &olden (ule of treating everyone the same. The temperament of
people differ greatly. By diagnosing your staff, you will better understand who to nurture and who to be very firm with.
LI ;onCt give it if you can get it. )uggestion" begin the process by asking the employee about how well they feel they are
doing. 4f they pick up on their deficiencies, it leads into a powerful dialog. 4f not, this will allow you to begin communicating
the gap between what you observed and their perception.
inally, praise them in the process. %ow+ Please be reminded that as a manager with worthy intention you only give feedback
to those employees with the potential to deliver.