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Constructive feedback

Constructive feedback guidelines
How to receive constructive feedback

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.

Constructive feedback guidelines
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 sincere manner.
Ask for the other person’s point of view and listen to what they have to say. There are two sides to every story!
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 improvement.
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.

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How to receive feedback
When you’re on the receiving end of constructive feedback, these tips will help you get the most out of the experience:

Listen carefully to what is being said to you.
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 defensive.
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 change?
Check with others – did other people involved in the incident or project have the same feelings about your efforts?

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