If you’re like most leaders, one of your biggest goals is to have difficult conversations with your team members that are critical to their success but such conversations often do not happen because of fear and awkwardness on both sides.
If you dread these types of interactions because you’re afraid that you might offend the other person or that they might not respond well to what you have to say, then it will be hard to get them done and as a result, your team will suffer and you’ll feel even worse about the situation than before.
Giving and receiving feedback can be challenging, even when the topic isn’t especially sensitive or serious. It might be intimidating to address your co-worker or employee on something they did that could be improved upon, but giving constructive feedback can help them grow as a person and make the work environment better in the long run.
Constructive feedback isn’t always easy to give, especially when the recipient of that feedback doesn’t want to hear it, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be given. Constructive feedback will help people in your life make positive changes and see the benefit of those changes long after you’ve left their lives.
In this blog, we’re going to unpack 10 examples of constructive feedback you can give to help you have those difficult conversations in your workplace with ease.
1) Understanding What Has Happened
When someone asks you for feedback on a piece of work, it’s easy to fall into your role as an evaluator and simply list off everything you think is wrong with it. This is hardly constructive, though. It’s more useful to understand what has happened than it is to assign blame. If someone has provided a sub-par piece of work, focus on why they’ve done so before offering suggestions on how to improve. Understanding what went wrong allows you to evaluate exactly how they can move forward and produce better results next time around. Your critique will be much more valuable if you help them learn from their mistakes rather than simply criticizing them for making them in the first place. The emphasis should be on helping others learn from their actions rather than just being critical of them. Everyone makes mistakes—it’s part of being human—but by understanding what led to those mistakes, we can prevent ourselves from making similar ones in future situations.
2) Keeping The Focus On Future Behavior
One of the most important aspects of feedback is to keep your focus on future behavior, not past actions. Try putting yourself in their shoes – how might they interpret things if you said you always… or you never…? When giving constructive feedback, it is essential that you remain focused on helping them solve a problem rather than just being critical. This will help them learn and grow from the experience instead of taking it personally. If possible, try to provide at least one example where they have succeeded in behaving in a way that meets your expectations; hopefully providing something positive for them to latch onto as well!
It’s easy to get caught up in criticizing someone’s mistakes, but that can make people defensive which will make it harder for them to hear what you are saying. Keep your language clear and simple. Make sure that when offering constructive feedback, you are clear about what specific behaviors need improvement. Using general statements like you need to improve… or I don’t like… doesn’t give anyone any direction as to what needs improvement/change and therefore, leaves little room for change. Using specific examples help others know exactly what you expect from them moving forward so they can work towards changing those behaviors over time.
3) Practicing Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is crucial for good management and it can also help you have successful tough conversations. Before delivering your feedback to an employee, take a moment to stop and think about how they will react to what you have to say. If your news isn’t positive, recognize that it’s possible that they won’t respond positively. However, if your intent is honest and delivered from a place of concern or interest, then even negative feedback can be taken in stride by an employee with self-awareness.
One way to practice self-awareness is through mirroring techniques like active listening (which involves repeating back some of what another person says) and reflecting back on your understanding of their emotions during a conversation with them. This helps you build trust and rapport with others as well as gain insight into yourself. It also helps you have those difficult conversations when needed because it allows you to prepare emotionally before having a difficult conversation. In other words, practicing self-awareness makes difficult conversations easier because we are better able to understand ourselves as well as others on both emotional and logical levels.
Practicing self-awareness does not mean reading your employees’ minds; rather, it means being aware of your own feelings so that you can more effectively read theirs without having to ask directly. This allows us to tailor our communication styles accordingly while still maintaining respect for boundaries between ourselves and others.
4) Modeling A Better Way
Constructive feedback can be a scary term. As an employee, it means that you’ve done something wrong and your boss is going to let you know about it. As a manager, providing feedback means you’re in a position of power and have to be careful that your criticism doesn’t come across as overly aggressive or even malicious. Fortunately, there are some ways to word criticisms so they hit on points people want to hear.
Here are some constructive feedback examples to show how being clear about both positives and negatives can help anyone in any management position get their point across with tact:
- You really did a great job! I was especially impressed by [insert positive comment].
- I’m writing because I need to tell you about my concern/suggestion for improvement.
- Your work is often quite good, but there’s one area where I think we need to improve.
- I appreciate all your hard work over these past few months; however, I feel like we haven’t been making enough progress lately.
- It seems like you’re struggling with [insert problem]. What’s going on?
- [Name], here’s what I appreciate most: [insert positive comment].
- [Name], here’s what needs improvement: [insert negative comment].
5) Being Specific About What Needs To Change
Whenever you provide feedback, your most important job is to be specific about what’s going well and what isn’t. It’s okay to be a little blunter with constructive feedback than you are with praise—after all, it’s helpful for people to know where they can improve. Try starting conversations by stating what they’re doing well first and then moving on to pointing out areas of growth. Be sure to mention your desired outcome so that they know what kind of change you’d like them to make.
For example, You always give your presentations so well; I think we can get even better results if we work on enhancing your eye contact. Let me know if you have any questions! Feedback examples
And remember to stay positive and supportive throughout these difficult discussions. After all, nobody likes being told they’re not perfect.
Give positive reinforcement while offering guidance on how they can become even better at their jobs! Make sure they understand why you feel that way.
Avoid blanket statements such as You’re never prepared or You don’t do anything right. Instead, focus on specifics and be ready to back up your statements with examples from past projects or events.
If possible, suggest one or two ways in which you think things could go better next time around (i.e., Next time let’s make sure we set aside enough time for adequate rehearsal.)
When providing constructive criticism, try to keep an open mind and show empathy. It may seem easy to criticize someone else when they’ve made a mistake or fallen short of expectations, but putting yourself in their shoes can help remind you that mistakes happen — even when someone has done everything right.
6) Providing Additional Context
Rather than simply pointing out what was wrong, help your employee see why their actions are hurting you. Be specific. If necessary, provide additional context or examples that they can relate to. Without proper context and examples, employees may not be able to easily understand why a certain action is harmful.
Here’s an example: Remember last month when we decided that it was best to send resumes to candidates who had applied within the past month? Sending your resume to candidates who haven’t even started looking for a job in over three months is decreasing our response rate drastically because there’s no need for them to apply again. I know you were just trying to help, but I think we should stick with our original plan.
7) Check-In On Progress Regularly
Even if you don’t see immediate results, check in with your team regularly. Offer to have lunch or coffee (or whatever) with them to see how they’re doing and if they need help. Find out what they think their biggest roadblocks are and help them overcome those obstacles—if possible. Even simply asking how someone’s work is going or what projects they’re working on shows that you care about them as a person and not just a resource. I know it can be hard to take time out of your day, but any time you can get by spending time with each other outside of meetings is valuable—and will give you some quality bonding moments outside of work.
Also read: 30 60 90 day reviews and templates
8) Praising Efforts and Actions, Not Just Outcomes
If you’re looking to provide feedback in a constructive way, it’s a good idea to get specific. Instead of saying, You never follow through on your commitments, try saying something like The goals we agreed upon at our last team meeting are still incomplete. I noticed that you haven’t submitted your weekly report or provided an update on our research tasks. Our deadline is coming up next week and we could really use your help to meet it. What can we do differently to ensure that these responsibilities are met? Asking questions rather than making accusations will lead to more effective feedback sessions where both parties walk away feeling valued and encouraged instead of defensive and angry.
Also, remember to focus on what people did well (efforts) as opposed to just what they didn’t do (outcomes). Nobody likes being scolded for failing—instead, let them know how their actions made a difference and how they can continue doing great work. When giving feedback, be direct and honest with what you have observed. Do not hold back information or give excuses for someone else’s behavior; that is not helpful! It’s also important to remember that some people may have difficulty receiving feedback about their performance because they feel personally attacked when negative comments are made about their behavior. People who feel personally attacked will often shut down emotionally and stop listening completely.
9) Don’t Assume Anything; Ask Questions Instead
It can be tempting to assume you know why your boss is giving you constructive feedback, especially if your boss has given you similar advice in the past. Even if you do have a sense of what your boss wants, it never hurts to ask questions. Asking clarifying questions can help strengthen your understanding and provide an opportunity for your boss to elaborate on any points that aren’t clear. Plus, if your boss notices that you’re actively listening and asking smart questions, it will go a long way towards building a stronger relationship —and that alone can pay dividends down the road!
One thing to keep in mind is that constructive feedback usually has two components: actionable suggestions, or what you did wrong, and bigger-picture thoughts about how to get better overall. The actionable suggestions are easy enough; however, larger developmental issues can take longer than just one conversation to discuss. In those cases, find time to check back later so there’s time dedicated to discussing both elements. When appropriate, schedule follow-up meetings throughout your performance review cycle so everyone stays accountable for their commitments along the way!
10) Keep Things Civil And Professional
If you’re looking to give someone feedback in a professional setting, make sure you don’t approach it from a confrontational perspective. Start by explaining what you appreciate about them (even if it’s just an aspect of their work), and then move into areas for improvement. Remember, these conversations are about helping your colleagues succeed. As always, keep things civil—no one likes being attacked at work or feeling like they’re being put on blast. Even if things start to get emotional, be sure to stay level-headed so as not to lose your cool. A poor delivery will almost always lead to a poor outcome. And finally, no matter how tough a conversation is, avoiding ending with something like this isn’t personal. This only confuses matters more.
To end on a positive note: Always finish with something along the lines of thank you or I’m glad we had this talk. When done right, constructive criticism can help both parties grow professionally.
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