Delivering Constructive Feedback: 6 Essential Tips
Delivering constructive feedback seems scary. Will they get defensive? Will they shut down? Are they going to hate me?
We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad constructive feedback, so it’s natural that we are hesitant to deliver constructive feedback that could hurt someone’s feelings. However, constructive feedback is one of the most powerful tools for change and growth. But, when executed poorly, it can cause performance to suffer even further.
With so much on the line, it’s critical that we deliver constructive feedback effectively and clearly.
Here are 6 must-know tips on how to deliver constructive feedback in the workplace.
What is constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback, at first glance, seems to just be a euphemism for “negative feedback.” But that is not the case. Constructive feedback is feedback provided to someone with the goal of creating a positive outcome.
With constructive feedback, yes, there is an issue or a problem that needs to be addressed. However, constructive feedback helps examine the problem and offers a solution. Instead of saying “this is bad,” or “you’re doing a bad job,” someone who is offering constructive feedback would say, “this didn’t work because you didn’t budget enough time for this project. Next time, you should budget at least five weeks.”
That feedback provides a path forward.
Why are we afraid of giving constructive feedback?
So many of us are hesitant to give constructive feedback. Why is that? For one, we may be afraid of hurting the feelings of our colleagues or direct reports. And that’s fair. Done poorly, constructive feedback can make workers feel discouraged, unmotivated, bitter, or anxious.
Odds are, you received some negative feedback in the past that made you question your self-worth. I know that I’ve received some “constructive feedback” that was little more than glorified verbal abuse. It made me feel terrible! Because we have experienced bad “constructive feedback,” in the past, we want to protect our colleagues and direct reports from those same negative experiences.
Instead, we try and let them down gently. Maybe we use the dreaded “compliment sandwich,” which can often confuse the receiver. Or, we only ever focus on positive feedback, hoping that our employees will take the hint.
Both of these strategies are counterproductive. If you don’t address a behavior that needs fixing, it’ll never get fixed. It’s up to you to deliver clear, fair, constructive feedback.
What’s the risk of not giving constructive feedback?
As mentioned earlier, the major risk is that an employee doesn’t change the behavior or performance that needs changing. Say, for example, that you have an employee who is chronically 2 hours late. They clock in at 11 am every day. It’s been going on for a month. If you don’t say something, this behavior will undoubtedly continue for the rest of their tenure.
Obviously, that’s a bit of an extreme example – but the concept is valid for any other performance issue. If, say, your direct report fails to spellcheck their emails – and they just sent out a company-wide email forgetting the letter “L” in the word “public,” then not giving constructive feedback means that the issue will still persist – along with all the embarrassing typos.
What are the benefits of giving constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback is a valuable tool in your performance management toolkit. Here are four key benefits you’ll see from giving constructive feedback.
Corrects poor performance
This is the big one. Constructive feedback will raise an issue about an employee’s performance and will offer a path for that employee to correct that issue. Most employees will internalize that feedback and implement significant changes. The end result: positive performance in place of poor performance.
Helps employees grow
I’ve received constructive feedback on things I knew I needed to work on. For example, a previous manager told me I needed to “slow down.” I knew that I was rushing, but it was helpful to hear it from an outside source. After that piece of feedback, we came up with a plan to check my work against a pre-publication checklist. That checklist helped my pieces really shine. Ultimately, my work across the board got a lot better!
Gives employees goals
Constructive feedback can also be on employee blindspots. For example, a manager could notice that an employee continuously fails to rely on analytics reports they have access to. After a conversation, the manager could discover the employee wasn’t properly trained on that analytics tool. From there, the employee could some new goals for the quarter: spend 2 hours a week learning the analytics program and add in a report once a month.
Fixes little issues before they become big problems.
When a manager relies on constructive feedback during frequent meetings such as 1:1s or check-ins, they can provide valuable, real-time feedback to employees about small issues before they become big problems. Let’s say a sales employee failed to meet their phone call quota for the week. If the manager fails to address this the next week, that may happen again and again, and it may end with the salesperson failing to make their sales target for the quarter. This could have a significant negative impact on their salary and the company’s bottom line.
If, instead, the manager brought this up right after it was discovered, they could come up with a plan to make sure that they got back on the right path – averting a major issue down the line.
6 tips for delivering constructive feedback
Delivering constructive feedback isn’t the easiest task, but it is very important. We’ve outlined 6 tips you need to keep in mind when delivering constructive feedback. Follow these guidelines, and the odds are that your feedback will be well-received and will spur some positive performance changes.
1: Deliver feedback in private and in person
No one wants to be called out in front of a group of their peers. Can you imagine getting a public Slack message from the CEO telling you “This is terrible. Don’t do this again.” I’d want to crawl under a blanket and never resurface.
Out of respect for your employee, you need to deliver constructive feedback privately. Take time to set up a 1:1. Beyond that, it is important to deliver it in person as opposed to via email or Slack. Why? Because messages can get muddled when they’re written out. When you deliver constructive feedback in person, you have the opportunity to make sure your employee has understood you. They can ask questions, you can offer them opportunities for clarification, and they can provide additional information you may not have needed. It’ll keep the air clear and your message transparent.
2: Be timely, direct, and specific
Don’t wait a month to address an issue. Instead, set up a time as close to the issue as possible. While it might be beneficial to give yourself a few hours (or a day) to collect your thoughts, you want to keep the feedback close to the issue so that the problem is still fresh in everyone’s minds.
You also need to be direct. Direct does not mean rude. Direct simply means to the point. If you’ve noticed that your employee is failing to fill out their weekly reports, start by saying, “I’ve noticed you’re failing to fill out your weekly reports.”
It may be tempting to cushion that blow with a sentence like, “I know you’ve had a lot going on with your promotion, and I’ve been really impressed with all you’ve taken on,” but sentences like these end up hiding your true feedback. Hold off on the extraneous positive feedback and focus on the issue at hand.
Lastly, be specific. Don’t generalize.
Don’t say, “you’ve been late a lot.” Say, “this week, you clocked in two hours late on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.” These specifics will help ground your conversation.
3: Focus on actions, not behaviors
Constructive feedback is not a judgement of a person; it’s an explanation that their performance is lacking and needs to improve.
As such, the constructive feedback needs to focus on the performance specifics.
If an employee is struggling to complete their work in time, don’t say “you’re slow.” Instead, say, “this week, you failed to send in your report by the deadline on Monday. Instead, you got it in Wednesday morning. Because the report was so late, we had to delay our campaign until next week.”
4: Stay calm
Don’t yell. This is an office, not a roller coaster. Your colleagues are human, just like you.
What is yelling, honestly useful for? Getting someone’s attention in an emergency.
What is yelling bad for? Getting people to put their defenses down.
When you yell at someone, they put up their defenses. They don’t want to learn, they want to survive. They may yell back, they may clam up, they may start crying. They’re not going to change or internalize the lessons you want them to learn. All they’ll learn is that you’re mean when they mess up.
Ok, but what if your employee starts yelling first? Maybe you started calm, you were very direct, and your employee got so defensive and blew up. The solution? Stay calm, don’t yell, focus on the facts. You are not in charge of your employee’s behavior, but you are in charge of your own.
Feel free to empathize – offer sayings like, “I understand this is upsetting,” or “this feels a little heated, maybe we should take a breather and come back in a minute.” These techniques help lower defensiveness, and will hopefully allow you to get back to the issue at hand.
5: Be respectful
Respect takes multiple forms. Sure, being respectful means, “not yelling,” or “not calling someone out in person,” but it can also mean, “not coddling,” or “not condescending.” Your employee is an adult, like you. They’re complicated, talented, and flawed – like all of us. Respect them by treating them as such. Focus on the shortcomings that you’ve seen, explain how they affect the team and the greater company, and then work together to find a solution.
6: Follow up
Follow up after your meeting with a little recap email. In your email, outline the performance issues you highlighted, along with the action items that you and your employee need to take. This way, your employee has a document they can fall back on to help them fix their performance. And, if performance issues persist, you can always refer back to the email to document the previous issues and feedback you’ve provided.
When is the right time to give constructive feedback?
You can absolutely give constructive feedback during a quarterly review or other formal performance review. These can be great times for employees to look holistically at their performance and make plans for growth over the long term. However, don’t wait until a quarterly review to give constructive feedback if you’ve noticed something. It’s best to deliver constructive feedback as close to the event as possible, so that it’s fresh in everyone’s minds and it doesn’t lead to bigger problems.
What are some constructive feedback examples?
We’ve come up with some real-world examples of constructive feedback, so that you can better formulate your own constructive feedback down the line.
Take a look at our examples below.
An employee is chronically tardy.
Jess, I’ve noticed that these last two weeks, you came in late 7 out of 10 business days. Last Tuesday, you came in three hours late without saying anything to anyone. Being late negatively impacts our team, as we rely on your work to get our projects done. When you’re not here, you’re not working, and we end up behind too.
An employee was rude to a customer
Matt, yesterday I reviewed your customer call, and I heard you yell at one of our customers. I understand that customers can get under our skin, but yelling at our customers negatively impacts our brand and leads to a higher rate of churn. Going forward, I need you to understand that you cannot conduct calls like this again.
An employee forgot to lock the office
Alice, when I came into the office today, I noticed the door was unlocked. After reviewing security footage, I saw that you were the last one to leave. While nothing was stolen, this was still a major security risk – thousands of dollars of equipment could have been taken. If you’re the last one here, it is critical that you lock up. Here is our closing checklist – make sure you follow this procedure next time you’re the last one out.
Can I use a performance management tool to deliver constructive feedback?
Remember, delivering feedback in person is critical. However, if your constructive feedback is also part of a performance review, you need to make sure that you capture this feedback so that your employee’s performance can be effectively analyzed and reviewed.
PerformYard is a performance management solution that streamlines the performance management process. It’s a single-sign-on platform where employees immediately see what tasks they need to complete.
Managers and colleagues can easily deliver constructive feedback through 360 reviews, quarterly reviews, or through continuous feedback processes all within the PerformYard platform. The best part? The process is fully customizable, so you can build a review process that works for your organization.