how to start giving constructive feedback at work

Can You Get Good at Giving Constructive Feedback?

Do you enjoy giving constructive feedback at work? How about receiving it?

Most people say “no” to these questions, yet when asked if they like to learn and grow in their career, the answer is almost always a resounding “yes.”

But it’s almost impossible to grow without useful feedback.

What if we could get into the habit of giving constructive feedback and make this a part of our typical workplace culture? Here are some pointers I hope will help.

Why don’t we like receiving or giving constructive feedback?

I bet that if you don’t like giving and receiving feedback, it is because:

  1. Your experience is that you’ve rarely received 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. As such, it 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 hostile.

With the right tools, it is possible to improve workplace culture through better conversations, including regular feedback. And we can make them the type of conversations that people look forward to.

Four Simple Practices for Giving Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is easier than you think, and once you learn how, it can start to shift your culture dramatically.

Here are four easy ways that leaders can start creating a culture of appreciation around feedback.

1. Focus On What People Do Right

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 input you provide is positive.

Each day, try to catch at least one employee or colleague doing something that exemplifies your company’s values, contributes to excellent service, or improves your workplace in some other way.

  • Tell them
  • Be specific about why you appreciate it.
  • Do it right away or as close to the time as possible.

Seize 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 is good and seeing it more often. You will likely find that you automatically begin providing positive feedback to many people each day.

2. Show Appreciation When You Receive Feedback

How often have you been complimented on your outfit, only to say, “Oh, this old thing?” or “I got it on sale.”

How about just saying “thank you”? Lead by example.

If someone is giving constructive feedback, learn to receive it in a positive, appreciative way. On how you handled yourself in a specific 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?”

Do some reflective writing on what your typical response is when people give you positive feedback. This will make you become aware of it and notice when you are deflecting or discounting the input.

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).

Lead with positivity, and you will set the tone for a flourishing workplace.

how to start giving constructive feedback at work

3. Try the “Feedforward” Strategy

We can consider most feedback as part of the 80:20 rule, where about 20% of feedback should help the other person enhance their strengths, improve their skills, and flourish. 80% of feedback can be positive.

But too often, if the conversation seems like it will be difficult, feedback is not given. This helps no one. A strategy called “feedforward” describes a way of offering positive and constructive feedback so people can hear, accept and feel good about it.

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 specific about what they do to make the workplace, service, or product better.

Be sure to use “…and” after these comments, not “but.”

Some examples:

And I have a suggestion about how to make it even better…

Here is a suggestion that may improve your sales outcomes…

Person x finds it easier and faster to do it this way. Are you interested in trying that method?

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. Also, you’re providing them with a great suggestion or two about how they can build on what they are doing well.

4. Try this Exercise to Improve Feedback Sessions

Think about someone who could benefit from you giving constructive feedback.

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. Likely, a day doesn’t go by when someone couldn’t benefit from an opportunity to learn and grow through some specific and appreciative feedback.

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

How to Get Better at Giving Constructive Feedback

Can you get good at giving constructive feedback? Yes, and I can help. Follow this blog for bi-weekly ideas to create your “better place to work, or sign up for my Conversations Worth Having Course HERE.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

Rowing A Weary Boat: Leading Your Team Through Rough Seas
10 Positive Questions About The Future Of The Organization
3 Ways To Be A Positive Deviant In Your Workplace!

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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