Articles // July 27,2022

How To Give Useful Constructive Feedback In The Workplace?

By Meenakshi Girish , Editor - Swetha Sitaraman

As you gain more experience or work on projects with multiple contributors, you will eventually find yourself in a position where you can provide constructive feedback. It doesn’t matter what your role is or whether you are a leader or a peer. There will be situations where you will have to provide feedback to your subordinates or colleagues to ensure that the output is successful.

“When I hear the word feedback, I always think of my manager from four years back. He would come up to me suddenly and surprise me with unexpected feedback. I would have completed a task two weeks back, but he would approach me and begin providing his thoughts on it without any preamble. Only after he finishes his speech and leaves will I even understand the situation about which he was talking. I used to hate him back then, but now he is a topic of humour,” said a sales executive at an IT Company in Chennai.

Are you someone who finds it hard to give constructive feedback to your team when it is needed? Or do you tend to phrase the statement in a way that ends up sounding dictatorial? Whether you are a leader or a peer, read on to know how to give constructive feedback in the workplace.

Set the tone by building trust

If you are going to be working together with someone for the long term, it is best to establish a trusting relationship with them. This will help you set the tone for any future conversations you will have and both parties can then gracefully accept feedback. The point is that you establish a friendly relationship with them to make them realise that you genuinely wish to help them.

Unless you trust the individual who is giving you the feedback, you will not believe that they have,

  • The experience
  • The ability
  • The authority
  • The accountability,

to judge you for your work. Only with trust can communication channels open and make exchanges productive. Without this baseline set in place, no matter how well you deliver the feedback, it will never be received in the right manner.

Always praise first

Now that we have the core value of trust established, one must learn to give praise before criticism. Never start a statement by saying – “I watched your presentation. There are a couple of things that you did not do well. Here are some points you should know about it.” It will immediately put the person on edge and make them listen to your feedback with a defensive air. The best way to avoid this is to start with praise and highlight what went well before discussing what can be improved.

Try rephrasing the statement to – “I loved the presentation you delivered yesterday. The content flow was spot on, and the conclusion had actionable solutions. I just felt next time you could focus on the solutions and elaborate on them a bit more? It felt a bit rushed as it was in the last slide, and we were running short of time.”

Isn’t this much better? Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘You’ statements. This centres the conversation around your experience and makes it less of a personal attack. 

Mind you, don’t end up beating around the bush too much, or it would sound like you are sugar-coating the feedback. Keep the content clear and the conversation crisp and to the point.

Give them space to grow and a goal to aim for

It is vital to ensure that you are providing a balanced perspective on the issue at hand. People should always feel that they have room to grow and improve after hearing your feedback. This is especially true of those who have a growth mindset. They don’t want you to only tell them their work is great. They also want you to set them a goal to strive towards and what elements they should focus on in the future.

If you are giving constructive criticism to someone who has worked with you before, try to compare their work to their past contributions. Let them know how their past work had impressed you, which is why you feel the new deliverable can be improved to match the same standards.

This way, you are making people aware of their potential and letting them know what standards you have visualised for their performance. This will motivate them to perform better in the future.

Criticise the art, not the artist

“I work at a digital marketing agency which is a highly creative field. One of my colleagues would always criticise my work saying it lacked creativity. Since it was personally targeting my lack of creativity, I would get very hurt and offended. He could have said I am capable of delivering better results or given me some suggestions on what he had in mind. By stating that I lacked creativity, I felt personally targeted and demotivated to work further,” said a content writer at a reputed digital marketing agency in Bengaluru.

Always separate the art from the artist. Never make your feedback sound personal and address the individual. Always speak about the work and what can be done to improve it. Keep your feedback consistent and make sure there are no surprises. 

Be specific with your feedback 

These are the two main aspects to keep in mind while giving constructive feedback. Keep in mind that when you are giving feedback to someone, you are giving them an opportunity to grow and improve themselves. Hence, the more specific your feedback is, the more clarity and focus the individual will have to fix the issue.

You can give exact details on what is lacking and prevent people from getting frustrated with mixed feedback. “I had a boss who would only tell me the work could be better. Or something vague like – where is the wow factor? These are baseless and I don’t understand what is wrong. If you want me to change things up and fix what’s lacking, you need to tell me what needs to be changed exactly. It doesn’t work if you keep rejecting my content until I produce the results you have in mind, which you won’t voice out directly,” said the frustrated voice of a college student who recently completed her internship at an auditing firm in Coimbatore.

Listen to what they have to say

While you are providing feedback, make sure you listen to people and their side of the story. There might be a genuine reason someone behaved a certain way or could not deliver on a project. They might have had a different perspective or thought process, compared to yours, while doing the task. There is a chance that they may have misunderstood the instructions or believed that their behaviour is harmless. Give them the benefit of the doubt and guide them in the right direction.

From time to time, give people meaningful compliments for the good work they do. It will motivate them to keep up the good work they have done and know that you are observing and appreciating their contributions.

Let’s sum up

The bottom line is to keep a simple point in mind – give feedback the way you would want to hear it if you were the recipient. If you are rehearsing what you are about to say to someone and you feel it would offend you, rephrase what you are going to say. Tone the delivery down, but never sugar-coat it and compromise on conveying the hardcore facts.

It also helps to convey the feedback face to face – always deliver constructive feedback during meetings rather than via emails. There is scope for misinterpretation if you convey feedback through a text message or a phone call. People could misunderstand your tone or miss reading your body language, which can tone down the feedback.

The best indicator of improvement is changed behaviour. Keep following up on your feedback and check if the person has implemented your suggestions. If you advised someone to avoid slouching during meetings, check their body language during the next one. If you requested someone to carry out deeper research for their project, check if they were able to do so and if you can help in any way. 

The way you convey feedback speaks a lot about how people will perceive you as a colleague or leader. When presented in the correct manner, it can be a helpful tool to strengthen relationships and deliver better results. 

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