How to Deliver Constructive Feedback at Work

How to Deliver Constructive Feedback at Work

Whether you’re a manager or a team player invested in the growth of your colleagues, you’ve likely been asked to deliver constructive feedback at work. How does that make you feel? If you find the idea intimidating, you’re not alone. Many people equate constructive feedback with negativity and shortcomings and may avoid addressing things with others that may help them change for the better in fear of hurting their feelings.

But constructive criticism isn’t inherently negative. In fact, it’s a positive investment in a person’s career as well as your professional relationship with them. With the right mindset and approach, you can build trust and grow a stronger team through your honest and open-minded critique. These tips will help you organize your thoughts and facilitate a constructive dialogue that leads to success and positive growth.

What Is (and Isn’t) Constructive Feedback?

In Forbes, constructive feedback is described as “valuable feedback that allows people to correct mistakes, improve their processes, and sharpen their skills.” 

When misconstrued or hastily presented, however, even the most well-intentioned feedback can land as negative or even offensive, and end up discouraging, rather than motivating, its recipient. 

Review the feedback below for examples of constructive vs destructive workplace feedback:

  • Destructive: “You’re anxious and don’t act like yourself around the office. I don’t think you enjoy being here very much, do you?”
  • Constructive: “Something I admire about you is the way your kindness and open mind encourage those around you to speak their minds. When you’re in a room, our projects get much more creative development because of the way you facilitate. How can we keep space for you so you feel comfortable voicing your own ideas?”
  • Destructive: “You aren’t thinking fast enough in meetings. If you have questions you need to ask them immediately. If you can’t, we might need to talk about an action plan.”
  • Constructive: “I really appreciate how thoughtful and thorough you are when approaching new projects, and I know that sometimes we don’t have enough time in meetings for you to employ your full process. How can we help deliver information in a way that’s easier to absorb? What questions do you tend to run into after the fact?”

Why Constructive Feedback Works Better

Constructive criticism is key to a functional, positive, growing workplace. Why? Because it is an investment into a recipient’s holistic well-being. 

According to Indeed, constructive criticism is effective for a handful of reasons: 

  • It enhances employee performance 
  • It clarifies expectations 
  • If you’re a manager or leader, it can improve your leadership by building a trusting coaching relationship with an employee 
  • By creating a supportive environment, it encourages employee loyalty and thus longevity 

So although it can take some additional time and planning upfront, properly conveyed feedback delivers tenfold as compared to a hurtful critique delivered in haste. 

Preparing to Deliver Constructive Feedback at Work 

Before you set out to deliver a piece of feedback firsthand, it’s critical to ensure what you’re saying accomplishes a few key goals. According to Forbes, constructive feedback should: 

  • Focus on specific ways to improve performance, rather than generally dwelling on past mistakes
  • Lead the recipient toward effective, forward-looking solutions rather than being accusatory or dredging up past mistakes 
  • Center on work-related goals and tasks, not on the recipient themselves 
  • Orient the recipient toward growth 
  • Place appropriate ownership on you, the deliverer 
  • Fundamentally build off the recipient’s needs and what is best for them 

Powerful Feedback Delivery 

Once you’ve prepared, it’s time to speak with your employee or colleague. If you can, consider delivering feedback in a timely manner versus waiting until a performance review. Reviews should never come as surprises. Done correctly, they should be opportunities to reflect on growth that has taken place over a year’s time.

But it is important to speak with your employee directly. Consider setting a 1:1 in-person meeting to talk with your employee. Be clear about your intentions, and offer your employee an opportunity to share their perspective and opinions. If you hold a regular 1:1 meeting, that can be a perfect opportunity to share constructive feedback on the regular, so it becomes a normal part of your working relationship.

With so much work taking place remotely, an in-person meeting may not be safe or possible. In this case, consider a video meeting. Barring that, you may consider a phone call, although eye contact and direct communication are most effective. 

Build a relationship with all your colleagues that incorporates positive and reinforcing feedback alongside constructive criticism. And make sure the relationship is reciprocal. If you can do these things successfully, you’ll be well on your way to an ideal workplace that nurtures employee growth and, in turn, leads to unmatched business success. 

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Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a content strategist and writer who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform — and even transform — its intended audience. Reach out to her on Instagram at @ErinOllila, or visit her website erinollila.com.