Can You Get Good at Giving Constructive Feedback?

Do you like getting feedback at work? Do you look forward to providing it to others? Most people say no to both of these questions.

Do you like to learn and grow in your career? Most people say yes to this. Yet, it is impossible to move forward and grow without effective feedback on what we’re doing well and what we can do to improve.

My bet is that if you don’t like giving and receiving feedback it is because of one of these three experiences:

  1. You have experienced rarely receiving feedback at work unless you are doing something wrong.
  2. You’ve been in a situation where feedback was offered just once a year at your annual performance review, which became an anxiety-ridden experience because of the lack of feedback in between reviews.
  3. You have received “constructive” feedback in a depreciative way that made you feel defensive and negative.

What if we could easily learn how to give feedback in an appreciative way and make this a part of our culture at work? What if people actually looked forward to that feedback because it built them up and helped them to flourish at work? What if this could become a regular occurrence at work – where people provide regular feedback to each other on a daily basis and it becomes a part of the culture?

This is all possible with the right tools! Giving effective, appreciative feedback is easier than you think, and once you learn how, it can start to shift your culture dramatically. Here are three simple practices for giving and receiving feedback appreciatively.

First, consider that your employees and colleagues are probably doing something right most of the time. Are you letting them know? One of the keys to turning feedback into an opportunity for learning and growth is making sure that 80% of the feedback you provide is positive.

Try This:
Each day, try to catch at least one employee or colleague doing something that exemplifies your company’s values, contributes to great service or improves your workplace in some other way. Tell them. Be specific about what they have done that is so great and why you appreciate it. And do it in the moment – right when the behavior is happening, not days or weeks later. Once this becomes a habit for you, you’ll find that you start looking for what’s good and seeing it more often. You will likely find that you automatically start providing positive feedback to many people each day.

Secondly, learn to receive feedback in a positive, appreciative way. How often have you been complemented on your outfit, for example, only to say “Oh, this old thing?” or “I got it on sale.” How about just saying “thank you”? If someone provides positive feedback on how you handled yourself in a certain situation, or how you led a meeting, try saying “Thank you. I appreciate you telling me that.” You might even ask a clarifying question, like “What specifically did I do that helped you?”

Try This:
Do some reflective writing on what your typical response is when people give you positive feedback. This will make you start to become aware of it and notice when you are deflecting or discounting the feedback. Then, the next time someone provides you with positive feedback, take a breath before answering, and accept it with gratitude and grace (and maybe a clarifying question).

Lastly—and this is the one that seems to be most difficult for people—consider that about 20% of the feedback you give to employees or colleagues should be constructive. It should be given with the intent of helping the other person enhance their strengths, improve their skills and flourish. This can be easily provided with a strategy called “feedforward” which combines positive and constructive feedback in a way people can hear, accept and feel good about.

Remember the 80:20 rule? 80% of what they are doing is likely positive and productive, so start by telling them this. For example, “What I like about your work is…” or “Where you are excelling is…” Be really specific about what they do to make the workplace, service or product better. These comments should never be followed with a “but…”! Instead, try saying “And I have a suggestion about how to make it even better…” or “Here is a suggestion that may improve your sales outcomes…”

When constructive feedback is provided in this way, the person receiving it is getting some real, genuine, timely positive feedback on what they are doing. In addition, you’re providing them with a great suggestion or two about how they can build on what they are doing well. We know that 80% of feedback should be positive and 20% should be constructive, and 100% should be received. Too often, if the conversation seems like it will be difficult, the feedback is not given. This helps no one.

Try This:
Think about someone you need to provide some constructive feedback to. Make a list of at least 5 strengths they have that are helping the organization succeed. Make a note of just one way they could improve upon what they are already doing well. What are the outcomes you want to see? Take the time to share these thoughts with them privately. Do some reflective writing afterward about how it went. If necessary, write a “do-over” in your journal. How would you reword the conversation if you had it to do over again? Then keep practicing. It is likely that a day doesn’t go by when someone couldn’t benefit from an opportunity to learn and grow through some specific and appreciative feedback.

By using these tools on a daily basis, you will start to make giving and receiving feedback a part of the way that you work. By teaching these tools to others on your team or in your workplace, it starts to become a part of the culture or “how we do things around here.”

Can you get good at giving constructive feedback? Yes, you can! So can the rest of your team.

Follow this blog for frequent ideas on creating your “better place to work.” The practice of ‘Stepping Up to Feedback’ comes from the course “Conversations Worth Having at Work” that Deborah will be teaching again online starting November 21/19. To delve deeper into these practices, join us for this course by registering here.

Book Deborah to speak at your event or in your workplace.

Purchase her book: ”A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture”. A perfect book for your next book club! Reduced prices are available for bulk orders .

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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