Four tips to help you give constructive feedback

Giving constructive feedback

Four tips to help you give constructive feedback

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When was the last time you gave critical feedback to a teammate? How did it go? Better yet, is there someone you know you need to share constructive feedback with, but you’re afraid the conversation won’t go well? 

We all know that feedback is critical to keep employees motivated, create a culture of accountability and get the most from our teams. While there are many types of feedback, all of which serve a different purpose, this article’s focus is on four tips to guide you in giving thoughtful, actionable and constructive feedback.

#1 – Share the *why* in addition to the *what*

When giving feedback, we often focus on the issue or behaviour we need to address – “you never come prepared to meetings” or “you consistently miss deadlines” – and under-focus on *why* we’re giving feedback in the first place. 

Our intention in giving constructive feedback is typically to help someone improve – and it’s also typically coming from a belief that this person can improve. Our feedback should, therefore, encourage improvement, rather than cause recipients to feel shame or guilt.

Further, critical feedback is typically not intended as a critique of who our teammate is as a person, but rather a series of actions or habits that are problematic or counterproductive. Taking the time to make certain your team member understands that your feedback is intended to help them grow and develop, and being careful to distinguish your teammate’s behaviour from who they are as a person is critical to creating an environment where your teammate can actually hear what you’re saying. 

#2 – Take responsibility for being clear 

Have you ever left a conversation where you intended to give critical feedback unsure of what the recipient heard and how they interpreted what you said? 

Sometimes, in an attempt to not hurt someone’s feelings, we bury our constructive feedback within a lot of praise, frequently known as the “s**t sandwich”; other times, we struggle with the right language to share difficult critiques, so we end up being vague or indirect.  Oftentimes, we are unaware of our own verbal gymnastics and think we are more clear than we actually are. 

As the person giving critical feedback, it is OUR responsibility to do everything we possibly can to: 

  • Make sure the recipient understands exactly what we set out to communicate. 
  • Ensure we deliver the feedback in a time and place that is thoughtful and considerate, 
  • Gives the recipient room to process the feedback, oftentimes requiring us to get comfortable with uncomfortable silences and give our message time and space to sink in. 

#3 – Make it actionable 

Oftentimes, in giving critical feedback, we focus on the ways in which something was not up to standard. While it’s important that our teammate understands that there is a gap between expectations and their performance, it’s also vital that they know what good looks like.

“I’m frustrated that you’re often unprepared when you come into our meetings, can you please focus on ensuring you’ve properly prepped for our meetings before they begin?” is a lot less helpful than, “I’m frustrated that you’re often unprepared when you come into our meetings. In order for you to be well-prepared, I need you to send an agenda at least two hours prior to the meeting, bring a pen and notebook to take notes, and send summary notes within 24 hours of the meeting.”

When constructive feedback is actionable, the question shifts from, “Does this person know what good looks like?” to “Are they willing, ready, and able to put in the work to do well?”

#4 – Be vulnerable and empathetic, but not self-centred

Often when giving constructive feedback, we’re reminded of critical feedback we’ve been given in the past. It can be powerful in building rapport and trust to share openly and vulnerably when we see a parallel between the areas we are asking our teammates to improve and our own career evolution and remind our teammate through specific examples that we all have areas for growth. 

However, while giving critical feedback can be difficult and uncomfortable for both the person sharing and the person receiving, it’s important not to focus too much on our experience as the person sharing.  While it might be tempting to acknowledge that the situation is uncomfortable by saying things like, “This is difficult for me too,” it’s important to remember that it’s unlikely that it’s more difficult for us to give feedback than it is for our recipient to hear it.

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