7 Tips For Giving Constructive Feedback

Managers and supervisors often find it difficult to give effective constructive feedback to their employees. As a result they either avoid giving it, or give it in a way that is either ineffective or makes things worse not better. So here are 7 tips to giving effective critical feedback.

The ability to give effective critical feedback is a powerful tool that helps managers and supervisors to optimise the performance of their employees. The main purpose for giving such feedback is to close gaps between two things, an action the employee took to achieve a result and the result they achieved.

Giving effective critical feedback increases success by helping an employee to see the gap between their actions and their results. It helps them to fine-tune their efforts and achieve better results. This then strengthens their self-confidence and deepens their engagement.

Every manager and supervisor needs to learn how to give effective critical feedback that helps their people to succeed, so here are some tips to help you.

1. Clarify First
Constructive feedback works best when your employee understands the criteria that define success before the feedback occurs. If the criteria have not been made clear, then start by clarifying what it is that will demonstrate success.

2. Reduce Resistance
Research tells us that when people receive more positive feedback than critical feedback, their natural tendency to respond to critical feedback with defensiveness is suppressed and their motivation to take action on the feedback is far greater. This is because over time the positive feedback creates a climate of trust and honesty and it is this that helps to get the most from people.

But for your positive feedback to work, it must reflect meaningful successes. Simply saying “thank you for coming in today” is not positive feedback. You must be specific about what it is that is “good” about their results or actions.

3. Start With Your Aim
Start by thinking about what you would like your team member to do differently. For example, you might want them to improve the results they are getting by adding a few additional steps to the way they are doing it, or you might want them to stop doing something that gets in the way of achieving a result, or for them to show more persistence when they encounter difficulties. You must be clear what your goal is.

In order to do this you will need to take time to understand the action-result gap. This means honing your observational skills. If you can’t observe your employee’s work directly, then you will need to strengthen your questioning and diagnostic skills so that you can clarify the action-result gap based on your employees own description of the issue.

If you are unable to effectively assess the gap, then your ability to give high quality, relevant and valuable feedback will diminish.

4. Make A Plan
After you have established what the gap is, then think about the steps to follow when giving your feedback. Whenever a manager or supervisor encounters an action-results gap they can feel annoyed or even angry, but controlling your emotion is vital. Planning your approach will help to reduce any anxieties that either of you may have and help to keep counterproductive emotions in check.

A simple 3 step plan would look like this:

  • Step One: “I would like to get your perspective on how you can increase your success when doing X.”
  • Step Two: “I would like to share my observations on how you might increase your success when doing X.”
  • Step Three: “I would like to conclude with agreeing the next steps.”

(You may want to switch step one and step two based on your view of how large the action-result gap is. If the gap is large, start with step two.)

5. Decide When To Do It
The timing of when you give your feedback will depend on the action-results gap. As a general principle, give your feedback promptly and in person.

However, if the gap is big, you may need to give yourself more planning time to consider your approach and decide when during the working day the employee will be in the best frame of mind to receive this feedback.

Do give the feedback in person if you can - or by phone/Skype if geography or time zone differences make face to face contact difficult. Never do it by email!

6. Balance Telling & Asking
When giving feedback you need to balance two different approaches: 1) telling your team member about a gap you have observed between their action and results, and 2) asking them questions that help them to clarify the action-result gap and identify for themselves how best to close it.

When you tell you are providing direction, creating focus and developing clarity.

When you ask you build ownership and commitment, because people commit to what they help to create.

The ability to formulate and ask good questions can be harder than simply being directive (telling). It takes longer.

There are some basic feedback questions you can ask which are quite simple. For example: What obstacles do you need to overcome to achieve greater success with this result? What is the best way to overcome these obstacles? How will you know you succeeded? There are many variations on these basic feedback questions so you can tailor them to the specifics of a feedback situation.

Successful managers and supervisors combine telling and asking to optimise the effectiveness of their feedback. In this way they focus on closing the right gaps and on gaining their employees commitment to close the gap.

7. Feedforward
Feedforward is making a recommendation about what your employee should do next time. It lets your team member know what it is you would like them to do or not do to achieve an important result. Feedforward works best when you also explain how the advice you are giving will improve their performance.

Constructive feedback, when given correctly, is one of the most important and powerful tools in a manager’s/supervisor’s toolbox of leadership skills.

If you want to provide management or supervisory training for your people on giving feedback then contact us today.