How to Give Constructive Feedback That Makes An Impact

Let’s be honest, it can be tough to deliver feedback in an impactful and meaningful way. So, today, I want to share some insights and frameworks to help you learn how to give constructive feedback that makes an impact and nurtures your people and your own growth all at the same time.

Creating an environment that provides us with a feedback loop on our own performance and the impact we have on others is critical in helping us continue to develop as leaders and managers – we all have blind spots.

Being able to share observations about a team member’s performance is a crucial skill that every manager and business owner must master to help align expectations and create an environment of consistent improvement. But before we dive into tactics for doing either of these, let’s talk about exactly what we mean by feedback.

What is feedback?

Feedback is information about:

  • a person or a group of peoples’ performance of a task
  • or potentially, a reaction to a product or service

This information is then used as a basis for improvement. So …

Feedback is information used to help you, the group, or the organisation improve.

Most of us get a bit stuck in only seeing one perspective of feedback – giving it to someone else.

But an important part of being great at feedback also means being able to receive actionable advice.

So although this article is primarily about providing feedback, remember that it’s equally important to work on being great at receiving feedback as well as giving feedback.

meaningful feedback

Why is it so challenging to give and accept feedback?

The reality is nobody loves giving negative feedback to their team members, peers, or key stakeholders in a corporate environment

And if the research is anything to go by, even positive reinforcement is largely under-utilised by leaders (not provided, not provided regularly enough or not delivered in a meaningful and impactful way).

This is one of the constant points of discussion in my coaching of leaders at all levels. And one of the biggest development hurdles.

So, if the idea of giving out feedback makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. The good news is that the right mindset and approach can really help.

Often, feedback is all about context and the people we’re receiving feedback from or giving feedback to. You’ve probably noticed it’s easier with some people and harder with others.

In general, we find it easier to receive feedback from people we respect compared to those people with which we don’t have as strong a relationship.

When trying to understand why it’s challenging in the workplace, I like to think about environments where feedback is normal and an essential process.

Take sport, for example.

In that environment, continuous feedback is absolutely normal. It’s standard practice to have a coach or teammates who provide you with consistent feedback. In fact, there’s a constant feedback loop of practising the skill, receiving feedback on the skill, making small improvements or adjustments to the skill, and then practising the skill again.

If you walk into any sporting environment, it would feel foreign not to have that feedback loop in place.

So why is it so much more challenging in the workplace?

Well, from the viewpoint of receiving feedback, it can often feel like criticism. Usually, that’s because we care deeply about something or about our performance.

Or it may be that what we do and who we are is wrapped up together. We may feel we are being criticised or judged for who we are, rather than being critiqued on the task at hand or how we approach it.

On the flip side, the challenge with giving feedback is that we think we may potentially hurt someone’s feelings or damage a relationship.

Many leaders want to protect their team members from hearing information that might cause them discomfort. But in actuality, withholding that feedback may actually create the situation you are trying to avoid. Not receiving that feedback can potentially cause challenges for the project, the team or the individual that could have been avoided.

It is also important to note that if you are in an environment (team or organisation) that doesn’t feel psychologically safe and has a low level of trust it will always be challenging to give and receive feedback without the fear of repercussions.

As a leader, it’s important that you are aware of how safe your team feels about giving and receiving feedback (watch for more from me on this topic soon and why it’s so important to create this in your team in 2021 and beyond).

The truth is, everyone needs to receive continuous feedback so they can improve. And this includes people at all levels.

how to give constructive feedback 3

What does good feedback look like?

Great feedback is specific, timely information provided to an individual or a group about his, her, or their behaviour, actions, style, or strategies, and how they’re perceived by and affecting others.

I say timely because when we neglect feedback for too long, it loses its significance and can be confusing for the recipient. It’s important to provide as close to real-time feedback as possible.

So not only do you need to be specific (never vague) with your feedback, you need to do it in a timely way. Waiting a month before delivering feedback or asking for feedback from someone dilutes its effectiveness.

Feedback is meant to lead to positive change and assist in professional development. And that encompasses both positive feedback and negative feedback (by the way, we like the term corrective better).

Ultimately what we’re endeavouring to do is ensure we are supporting people to move towards more successful outcomes by giving feedback and closing the expectation gap.

Remember – irrespective of role, we ALL need feedback. That goes further than just team to team or leader to the team. It also needs to include teams to leaders.

The most powerful feedback I have ever received came from my team about my leadership style and its impact on them.

How constructive feedback motivates and improves your team

It’s important to remember that feedback is not the same as criticism. So, it is key to be really mindful of how you construct your feedback, how you deliver that feedback, and how you listen to how people react.

First, ask what does “great” look like, in relation to giving impactful, meaningful feedback? That goes for both yourself and your team members.

Here’s what my clients usually look for. For both individuals and teams, they hope to create greater levels of personal confidence in their feedback skills (understanding, of course, that it’s a lifelong journey to becoming more confident in different situations and with different people).

They also hope to see more ownership of the conversations by their leaders. That means team members becoming proficient and comfortable having feedback conversations without needing to pull their leader into the conversation (this obviously requires the appropriate training and support for team members rather than just expecting them to become experts at receiving and giving feedback).

But the process starts with leaders participating in some of the more challenging conversations. Later, you will move to using them as a sounding board as you prepare for your conversations. And eventually, you will just provide a summary to your leaders of how your feedback session went.

Ultimately, the goal is for feedback to employees to be purposeful, thought through and delivered in a positive and supportive way. So it’s important to remember preparation is required for effective, empathetic feedback.

How to give constructive feedback

Really, feedback starts with the right mindset and beliefs.

The beliefs you have about receiving and giving feedback are going to impact what you think and how you feel about feedback. And that will impact the way you behave and your actions.

how to give constructive feedback 1If you don’t feel comfortable about providing feedback, it might mean you are reticent to give it. And as result you put off giving that feedback for too long.

But if you don’t give that feedback, that person will most likely continue to act in a way that’s not as effective for the team or for you and in turn for them. That means you’ll just get more frustrated. All the while, their results will continue to impact themselves and the entire team.

So, here’s what I suggest.

When you feel friction or reservations about giving or receiving feedback, stop and think about what beliefs you have about feedback that are getting in the way.

Develop a positive growth mindset about receiving feedback

We know that people with a growth mindset are more open to learning experiences and being able to solve problems.

We all know what it feels like to be confident and open when receiving feedback. But, we’ve also all experienced times when we closed down or felt a level of frustration or friction because we didn’t react as well when receiving feedback.

To get better at stepping into the discomfort that comes with giving or receiving feedback it’s important to consciously replace our current beliefs with supporting growth mindset beliefs.

A growth mindset as it relates to feedback is more open and optimistic about finding ways to take on that feedback and do something with it.

So, let’s look at some supporting beliefs around receiving and giving feedback.

People who have a growth mindset about receiving feedback might think, consciously or unconsciously, something like:

  • “I can always find a way to consistently improve.”
  • “Feedback provides me an opportunity to grow”

Or, if you’re trying to change your mindset to receiving feedback you might condition a supporting mindset of:

“They’ve given me this feedback because they want me to improve which demonstrates they want me to be part of this team.”

The goal is to assume positive intent when someone’s giving you feedback.

Create a growth mindset around giving feedback

And for those who struggle to give honest feedback, here are some stats that may help.

Did you know that 65% of employees say they want more feedback? And as many as 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback?

Those are significant numbers. So you can see that both constructive and positive feedback is not only necessary but desired by our employees, peers, and leaders.

So let’s look at some ways to help you become more confident about having constructive feedback conversations.

Let’s start with this one from Brene Brown. She has a mantra that …

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” ~ Brene Brown

Because when you are not clear with your feedback, or not giving feedback at all, you’re actually being unkind to the other person. You’re not giving them the opportunity to change or improve.

Many leaders, myself included, get stuck on this. To get past this hesitation, I remember that I’m actually not protecting them by withholding feedback, I’m putting them at risk.

And if they don’t get this feedback, there could potentially be some sort of impact or harm to our customers, or to them and their role. If they don’t improve or change their approach, others may improve past them. Projects may go off the rails.

So, if you feel hesitant to provide frequent feedback, start working on your own mindset. Learn to interrupt and replace a current mindset that might be holding you back with one that provides meaning and reason to get started with that feedback process.

And remind yourself that “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

Examples of support beliefs for feedback

How to deliver constructive feedback

Feedback is used to consistently improve and it’s for anyone with an interest in the success of the individual or the group. This includes managers and leaders.

We need to give feedback when it’s requested, and also when it’s required.

So when you’re ready to give some feedback, how, exactly, do you do it?

Like many of these human-centred skills, when you break it down it’s quite simple (but this doesn’t mean it’s easy) – and it’s the thoughts and feelings about the feedback that makes it harder.

Follow this simple framework to practice preparing and then delivering feedback in a constructive, supportive and meaningful way.

First, let’s look at a few tips for the most meaningful feedback.

Key considerations for delivering constructive feedback

Focus on the impact of your feedback.

It’s important to not point fingers. I cover some of this in my article about understanding conflict, that it’s important to point to the task rather than to the person.

Be aware.

Be honest with your feedback, but also be aware of whether the feedback you’re giving is fact or your opinion. And be aware of the environment you’re in.

Are you providing negative feedback in an environment where other people (family, coworkers, etc.) can listen in? That can feel really uncomfortable for people.

If you’re giving corrective feedback in an open plan office or in a remote environment where people are in a shared space (kitchen/ dining room), that might not be the most appropriate location for the discussion.

And now that we’re often working in a remote environment, think about what people are dealing with. Before and during the feedback it’s important to really become attuned to the other person and listen to and watch for the reaction to your feedback.

One thing that can tend to happen with feedback is if we’ve done some preparation, we might then barrel into giving feedback and following our process (our agenda and outcome) without stopping and actually listening to the other person’s point of view or their reaction to the feedback

Actually listening to what’s going on for the other person,their views and perspectives on the feedback you’re giving, is a big part of the process.

You must be ready to be supportive, open and listening, rather than just delivering your feedback. That is what will make it more meaningful and more impactful.

Okay, ready to learn the framework? Here it is.

A Simple Framework For Giving Corrective Feedback

You can use this framework when you need to provide insight into negative behaviours or the way someone approached a task that had a negative impact on a project, on others, or on you

There are 7 steps:

  1. Take time to prepare before you have the conversation. Take into consideration the 6 steps below
  2. Start with a positive mindset with the intent to support and help them improve
  3. Describe the issue and make it specific
  4. Say why it matters
  5. Ask for their view and listen
  6. Offer your perspective
  7. Agree on a way forward

We’ll walk through each step with a description and constructive feedback examples.

For this example, let’s say you have a team member who constantly turns up late for team meetings.

Step 1: Positive Mindset

The first step is to prepare with the right mindset and approach. Get yourself into a positive state of mind with the intent of support and providing effective feedback to help them improve and understand how their current performance impacts the situation.

Be deliberate about your thoughts, your body language, and your breathing when you walk into that conversation. It’s important that you enter that conversation with a level of curiosity to understand what might be going on for the other person along with clarity on the issue at hand and the reason it’s important to talk about and align expectations.

How you turn up to the conversation is important. Check that you are not entering the discussion in a negative and ineffective emotional state (one that closes conversations down)

Step 2: Describe the issue and make it specific

Be specific and back it up with examples:

Example: “Frank, I wanted to talk to you today about just your attendance and timeliness to the stand-ups we run every morning because it’s a really important part of our day. You know, the last three sessions, you’ve been 10 minutes late and our stand-ups only go for 15 minutes. So, it means that you actually miss the majority of the sessions. And I noticed last week, there were two morning meetings where you turned up 5 minutes late.”

Step 3: Say why it matters and explain the impact

Explain why the behaviour is important and how it impacts them as well as the rest of the team.

Example: “When you’re late, you miss most of the important parts of the stand-up, being able to listen to how other team members have got high risks or dependencies on you. And it doesn’t really demonstrate the value of teamwork we’re all trying to achieve. ”

Step 4: Ask for their view and listen.

Once you’ve presented your feedback, ask for their view and perspective and how they might do things differently going forward.

Important – this is where you need to really listen. There may be real reasons why this is happening.

Example: “Frank, I just wanted to bring this to your attention and talk it through and ask what’s going on for you? Or if there’s something that I should know about, and then find a way forward with this.”

Then Frank should be given some time to talk. It could be that Frank just says, “Look, yeah, I’m so sorry. I just haven’t been setting my alarm. I’ve just been really tired. And I promise it won’t happen again.”

Or maybe Frank will say, “Well, actually, I don’t think the stand-ups are really worth much, I don’t think they’re very valuable. We talk about the wrong stuff.”

Yes, you might get some pushback, which is absolutely fine. Because it’s important that we listen and try to understand our team members’ points of view.

So ask for their view and then how they might do things differently. This is how you can begin to understand why Frank doesn’t find the stand-ups valuable and how you can work through that.

Step 5: Offer your perspective

Now it’s your turn to respond to what they had to say and offer your perspective.

Example: “So, I’m hearing that you don’t find these startups valuable. I don’t believe turning up late is the best way to solve that, though. Maybe there’s a different way forward to make the stand-ups more valuable, and also hold to our standard of turning up on time.”

Step 6: Agree on a way forward

This is the step many people miss – agree on a way forward.

Once you’ve both shared your viewpoints, see if you can agree on a way forward. Then state what you’ve agreed to do.

Example: It could be that Frank said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’m committing to turning up on time.” If so, that’s great. You can say something like, “Great. We’ll see how it goes. If you’ve got problems because it’s challenging at home with remote schooling, please let me know before the stand-up starts.”

On the other hand, if you find you’ve hit some resistance, you might agree your way forward is to meet again. To go away and think about things and come back for a meeting again. If that’s the case, make sure both of you are clear on that and when you will meet again.

That’s it! Pretty simple, right?

Practice, Practice, Practice.

For best results, make a point to deliberately practice this framework until it becomes natural.

By taking the time to plan out how you will approach the feedback, and make sure you hit each of the steps, you will find giving constructive and actionable feedback can be much less stressful and combative than you imagined.

For help with practising giving feedback, or coaching on giving feedback in a difficult situation? Get in touch with me here for personalised 1:1 support.

Deep active listening skills

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