Giving feedback allows your team members, employees, and the company as a whole to grow and improve. But giving feedback is not an easy task. You want people to listen and grow from it, not feel attacked. These 7 tips will hopefully help you on learning how to give constructive feedback that your team can actually learn and grow from.
Why Is Giving Feedback Important?
Giving feedback is an essential part of business. Feedback allows you to grow and learn from your mistakes. Knowing where you’re falling short is vital for learning how to fix it and to keep doing better each time. The problem with giving feedback is, that many times people are afraid of coming across as mean, or of being disliked for being too harsh.
Many people fall into the “Sandwich Approach” trap. This means alternating between positive and negative feedback, in hopes this makes it more balanced. Many people feel that they have to “soften the blow” of giving negative feedback in order for people not to feel bad. And while being mean is never the goal, the Sandwich Approach can be more damaging than helpful.
Giving Constructive Feedback
It is vital to give positive feedback and to give credit where credit is due. However, using “good” points to soften up the “bad” ones, is no good. It can make the feedback feel empty and useless. Even worse, it can distract them from the actual, valid point you’re trying to make. Most people would actually prefer the actual “meat”, instead of going through all the other layers. And Harvard Business Review argues that this Sandwich technique can actually make people feel more anxious. It makes you wait longer and anticipate bad news, making you actually more uncomfortable and stressed -not less.
Giving feedback can be very hard, but it is an essential communication skill that helps people develop and grow. Taking criticism can be very hard. But that’s precisely why when giving feedback it is important to be extra careful about not making people feel attacked. It is completely normal to get defensive when facing harsh criticism. However, when people take a defensive stance, they are less likely to listen. In short, they’re less likely to actually learn and grow from it.
Giving constructive feedback is all about making sure the other person is actively listening. Only by helping them lower their defenses, feedback becomes truly a growth and improvement tool.
How To Give Feedback Constructively
Giving constructive feedback the people can actually take and learn from is no easy task. That’s why it is important to think beforehand when having to make a performance review. You don’t need to make a complete script, as it’ll sound robotic and insincere. But having a clear idea of the topics you want to work in, and what you want your team members to improve is vital for making the feedback meeting a productive one. The next time you’re working on an upcoming meeting, take into consideration these 7 points.
1- Create a Safe Space
This one may seem like a given, but it still worth highlighting it. Keep your feedback private. Even if you feel like it’s no big deal, or that you’re not saying anything “bad” about them, privacy is a must. You never know how the other person might take it. And having coworkers around hearing what you have to say can even increase their stress level.
It’s natural to be a little bit nervous when getting a performance review. It means that you care about your work and you want people to feel like you do a good job at it. However, if the person receiving the feedback is too uncomfortable, it can be counterproductive. Being highly uncomfortable will probably make the person less likely to hear out the critiques and grow from them. Most likely, they will be focused on getting out of it as quickly as possible, instead of actively listening and taking the feedback in. Create a safe space where they are not only entitled to privacy but also feel respected. As simple as it may sound, it can go a long way to making giving feedback more efficient.
2- Make It a 2-Way Conversation
A great way for creating a safe space is to approach feedback meetings like a 2-way conversation. When done in an authoritarian, one-way speech, giving feedback can easily turn into a lecture. It is easy to get stuck on just corrective feedback like “do this” or “don’t do that”. However, this type of feedback giving can easily turn into scolding and put people in a defensive position.
Asking questions is a great option to avoid turning feedback into a lecture. Question team members about what they thought of the development of the project, their own performance, and the result. This will help you get a bigger, better picture. Even more importantly, questions are a great tool to enhance independence. Helping them examine their own performance will allow them to develop a critical look at their own work. And, it shows humility by recognizing other possible points of view. Big taking in their own experiences, you’ll have a more complete look at the team performance and will be able to lead them better in the future. Asking questions when giving feedback is a great way to show you’re open to listening and will build trust between you and your team members.
3- Focus Your Feedback
When working on how to give feedback it is vital to focus and frame it. Most of the time, there are many things that can be tuned in and improved. But to make feedback really constructive, it is important to remember the goal of it. Giving feedback is not just about criticizing for the sake of it. The main goal should be that those receiving feedback can grow and improve.
In order to help them understand better, you can frame the feedback based on their personal career goals, and your organization’s goals. It makes it less likely to get defensive if you can see clearly where you’re falling short compared to your objectives. Knowing beforehand what are the expectations will make it easier to accept criticism as fair. Feeling that they are being treated objectively is a huge step in giving constructive feedback, even if the things they are hearing are not all good.
You can even make explicit that your intention is to give constructive feedback. Start your meeting by explicitly saying “these are things to learn and grow from, not a reason to get demotivated”. Sometimes the best way can be the most obvious one!
4- Be Specific
When giving feedback, it can be tempting to fall into “empty” labels and wording. Things like “unprofessional”, for example, can be interpreted in several different ways. Are you saying they are too friendly, or too informal? Too careless? Poorly dressed for the job? Unprepared for their tasks? It is pretty common to use this kind of generic phrasings in order to soften the blow. But in reality, they just get on the way of giving constructive feedback.
Be as specific as possible, both in the situations where you saw shortcomings and what they can improve even further. If you can use SMART milestones, even better! As said before, the more objective you are, the less defensiveness you’ll get from them. Make specific, trackable goals they can aspire to.
5- Don’t Make It Personal
This one may sound like a contradiction. After all, how could giving feedback not be personal? But what this means is to focus on actions, not on the person themselves. In other words, focus on behavior and performance, not personality. When trying to give constructive feedback you can let out things like “you are not a good leader”. Saying “you are” can be read as an attack on their character and their identity. It makes it harder to take feedback as constructive, as they will get instinctively defensive. Focus on targeting what they do, instead of what they are.
This doesn’t mean not telling them the criticism. But instead of saying “you are not a good leader”, target the actions behind that statement. For example, “You must work more in your communication skills”. Focusing not on who they are but in actions and attitudes they can change is key when giving constructive feedback.
Another option is to try to use more “I” statements. By avoiding “you” statements, you make it less aggressive and accusing. For example, instead of “you don’t care”, you can say that certain behaviors “make me think you don’t care”. See the difference? Obviously, this is not appliable to every single situation. However, it is still a great option to have in your toolbox.
6- Timing Is Everything
Feedback is not a once-in-a-life occurrence. It must be regularly given. There are many different opinions on how often feedback must be given. Some argue that “institutionalized” feedback is no good, as it makes it something to get over with, instead of actually learning from it. However, having feedback milestones is not necessarily bad. Whether it is every month, once every three months, or every six months, it’s up to you to make it work. Think carefully which fits better your company’s organization and your own team.
The most important thing is not to wait for the annual performance review. It is tempting to just write it all down, instead of meeting them and learning from the process. But face-to-face engagement is radically different (and much more productive) when it comes to giving constructive feedback.
You might also want to consider having performance meetings after a big project or event. These are usually a great opportunity to go through the lessons learned from it, and give and get feedback for upcoming projects. Giving feedback based on projects also allows you to be more specific, instead of letting everything pile up. It’s less likely to take feedback from something that happened too long ago, so tackling issues as soon as they come can be a great option.
7- Always Follow Up!
In order to see if your feedback is working, follow up is a must! Giving constructive feedback is constant work. As said in the point above, feedback must be done regularly. But that’s not all. Each feedback meeting can’t be done in isolation from the others. In order to establish if the feedback is really helping them learn and grow, it is vital to compare how far they’ve gone since the last one. Having SMART goals will definitely help keep track of the improvements and set new goals accordingly.
Follow up is also vital for reviewing your own feedback-giving abilities. Unless you do a follow-up, you’ll never know if your team members really took your feedback and applied it. How to give feedback must be constantly tuned in and adjusted accordingly. And doing a follow-up is a great way to know if there is something in the way you give feedback that you need to change too.
Practice How to Give Feedback
As said before, giving feedback is a skill. And, like any other skill, it has to be practiced and perfected in order to get results. There’s no easy script to follow. It depends a lot on your own style, your organization dynamics, the relationship with your team members, and the context. Hopefully, these 7 tips will help you on your journey on learning how to give more and better constructive feedback.