Everyone likes to receive praise and few people enjoy being criticized. But
praise and criticism are not effective ways to improve or change behaviour. By
telling someone “You did a great job,” or “I didn’t like that report,” you’re
not really helping them to understand what they did well or what they need to
improve for next time.
Constructive feedback is a more supportive communication tool than praise and
criticism. It is based on factual observations, not personal feelings, and
addresses specific issues or concerns. Constructive feedback strengthens working
relationships because the overall intent is positive. The purpose of
constructive feedback is to raise an individual’s awareness of his or her
behaviour in a way that will lead to corrections or improvements.
|•||Keep your personal feelings under
control. Feelings of frustration or anger will be evident in your tone of
voice and body language and will undermine your message.
|•||Focus on the task or behaviour, not the
person. Instead of saying “You’ve made a mess of this report,” say “There
were a number of spelling errors in your report.”
|•||Avoid personal comments. Focusing on
who the person is, rather than what he or she did, turns constructive
feedback into a negative personal attack. Saying “You’re such a loudmouth,”
implies that the behaviour was caused by a personal characteristic that
can’t be changed or improved. It is much more helpful to say “You spent a
lot of time talking during the meeting and didn’t let others have an
opportunity to speak.”
|•||Only comment on behaviour that a person
can do something about. Don’t make remarks about circumstances that the
person can’t change (e.g. physical appearance) or that are out of his or her
control (e.g. project decisions made by a manager). It only causes
resentment and frustration.
|•||Be specific. Give clear examples of
what has been done right and what areas need improvement. General comments,
like “This report wasn’t very good,” aren’t as useful as “The issues in
section one were clearly stated but sections two and three didn’t provide
enough analysis of our marketing and hiring concerns.”
If the feedback is entirely positive, you can still be specific in your comments
– e.g. instead of “Good job”, say “You showed a lot of initiative in setting up
a parent meeting to explain our new math curriculum.”
|•||Give feedback in a timely manner.
Don’t wait days or weeks to provide feedback. Both positive and negative
feedback should be given as soon as possible, so that events are still fresh
in everyone’s mind. However, if you don’t think you can address the
situation calmly, take some extra time to cool off.
|•||Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush
or give mixed messages. Qualifying your comments with a lot of ‘ifs, ands or
buts’ only confuses the issue. Give feedback in a clear, straightforward and
|•||Ask for the other person’s point of
view and listen to what they have to say. There are two sides to every
|•||Agree on targets or outcomes. Discuss
what needs to be done to improve or change the behaviour and agree on a way
of getting there. Establish a timeline for change and a method of measuring
|•||Use constructive feedback regularly.
Try to respond to people doing things right as often – or even more often –
than you respond to them doing things wrong.
|•||Listen carefully to what is being said
|•||Be sure that you understand the
feedback. Summarize or restate the feedback for the other person to be sure
there are no misunderstandings.
|•||Take notes so you can review everything
that was said at a later time.
|•||Control your feelings and try not be
|•||Ask for examples to clarify the
feedback and put it into context.
|•||Decide what to do with the feedback:
listen and change; listen and gather more information; listen and ignore.
|•||Consider your other experiences – have
you been given similar feedback before? Does it fit a pattern? Is it time to
|•||Check with others – did other people
involved in the incident or project have the same feelings about your