Giving and Receiving Constructive Feedback: Tips and Best Practices
Whatever your job position or industry, at various points in your career, you will need to demonstrate an integral leadership skill: giving and receiving constructive feedback. Feedback is a vital component of an institution's continuous learning and operational improvement. Yet, for many, giving and receiving constructive feedback in a way that is both productive and respectful is a challenge — especially in remote work environments. This is how to give feedback that will empower employees and foster growth.
Without knowing its definition and purpose, "constructive feedback" is just a buzzword. Here's what it means and why it's so important.
Constructive feedback is criticism provided with the intention of supporting personnel, not just identifying their weaknesses. When done correctly, providing and receiving constructive feedback leads to a dialogue around particular issues, which, in turn, helps create potential avenues or actions for improvement.
Why is feedback important? Constructive feedback brings the following benefits:
It aids learning. Constructive feedback allows employees to learn from their mistakes and improve and develop professionally. This is especially so with lower-level personnel, who may be uncomfortable asking their supervisors questions about their performance.
It fosters a positive, supportive work culture. When colleagues and peers are able to share their opinions of each other's work in a non-judgmental way, they become more open to sharing their ideas and supporting each other's professional progress.
It can lead to reduced attrition. Supportive and positive work environments are known to reduce employee attrition, which, in turn, can result in cost savings in terms of finding, training, and retaining talent.
In today's business world, the focus has turned to collaborative work. Here is how giving and receiving feedback can improve this:
Employee morale is higher. Employees with higher morale are more likely to display loyalty to a company and become more personally invested in a company's success. Constructive feedback encourages staff to learn from mistakes, work harder, and treat other parties cordially and respectfully.
Collaboration is more effective. When team members can share criticisms of each other and the team as a whole without upsetting each other or causing defensiveness, their working relationships are strengthened. They can focus on the good of the team or project and work together better.
Productivity is enhanced. When employees understand what has gone wrong in their work in a supportive, non-judgmental way, they learn from their mistakes faster and are able to take on more complex tasks sooner. Productivity thrives in a positive work environment, and employees are inspired to do their best work.
Giving feedback is a bit of an art as well as a science. While some of these principles may be somewhat "intuitive," others have been gleaned only through experience.
Be specific about events or actions you are critiquing. Vagueness will not help the person improve.
Remember that the goal is to help the person improve and work better, not to accuse or place blame.
Where possible, refer to your own observations and point of view: “I noticed/feel/felt that…” rather than “You always seem to….”
Provide the feedback as soon as practicable after the conduct or action while it is fresh in the person’s mind. This will make it easier for them to identify the problematic behavior and correct it.
Offer suggestions on how to improve, not just observations and criticism.
Listen to the other person’s perspective, and allow them to provide feedback to/about you if they so desire.
Face-to-face feedback is best. If it needs to be done remotely, use a video — or at least an audio — conference so they can hear your tone of voice and see your body language. You may even use project management or other programs that facilitate feedback and collaboration.
Be respectful and considerate of the person’s time and efforts.
Follow up with the person to offer additional guidance or clarification as needed.
Be sensitive to individual needs or issues so you can tailor your approach to the recipient.
Your feedback should directly reference a skill, specific knowledge, and/or performance measures.
Unless it is an issue displayed by the entire team, provide feedback in a one-on-one conference.
Give genuine praise where merited. Good behavior or work should be pointed out so that person knows what they should continue doing.
Provide an example of what you are looking for, if possible. Make your expectations clear — for example, what you expect in meetings.
Don't be vague in your feedback. Provide guidance both in relation to the nature of the problem as well as how the person can go about improving themselves. Focus on the action/inaction, not on the person. Don't make it personal.
You also don't want to wait to gather more feedback items before approaching personnel. When feasible, avoid providing feedback by text, email, or other written communication. This may feel like disciplinary action, the person may be less receptive, and they can miss nuances like body language and tone of voice.
Receiving constructive feedback should not be a passive endeavor. There are productive approaches and action items that will enhance the benefits of the criticism you receive.
Keep an open mind and really listen to what the person is saying. It may feel like a difficult or uncomfortable situation, but it can help you grow as a professional.
Stay calm and act professionally. This is not a time to get defensive.
Ask for clarification or further information if you really don’t understand what they’re saying.
Own your actions and mistakes, and express a desire to improve.
Think of your professional goals, and consider how your improvement based on the feedback can help you reach them.
Thank the person giving you the feedback, and tell them how you are going to use it to improve.
Be the one initiating the discussion so you can control what you are getting feedback on and show people that you are interested in improving yourself.
Ask for feedback regularly so you can get it in smaller, more manageable doses and preemptively curb behavior that would otherwise continue to irk superiors or colleagues.
Follow up on the feedback to show that you are taking it seriously and working on making changes. Make an action plan and follow through.
Talk to other mentors or to your peers. They may have further insight into the issues brought up in the feedback you received.
If possible, circle back with the one who gave you the feedback after you have worked on the discussed items, and ask them about your progress from their perspective.
Don't get defensive. It's a natural reaction for some people, but this exchange should be seen as positive and will support your professional success, so keep your emotions and reactions in check when receiving constructive criticism.
Don't justify the problem or immediately explain how the person is wrong. Really think about what is being said from the other person's perspective.
Don't over-clarify (or excessively ask for clarification). The message will rarely be so complicated that you need to continually define the parameters. Accept the criticism and reflect on it.
Learn your "triggers." This way, you can mentally prepare yourself to stay calm and be receptive to the valuable information you are about to receive. You can prevent yourself from making the preceding mistakes.
With remote teams, providing and receiving constructive feedback can be challenging because of the higher likelihood of negativity bias — the tendency to focus on the negative aspects of a message rather than the positive. In many cases, it occurs when employees are unable to key into verbal and non-verbal cues.
Create a mindset of learning and growth with your employees. Remind them to explore their interests, share what they learn, and see learning as an important company value.
Set up regular meetings specifically dedicated to sharing ideas and experiences.
Offer mentorship and a safe space to discuss professional development.
Ask your employees about their interests, whether it is during a meeting or through a survey.
Provide access to professional development/learning programs and tools.
Think of these activities as investing in your employees.
Software and programs are constantly evolving. Since COVID-19, more tools for remote teams (such as video conferencing) have been developed, so look for features that will help you achieve your feedback and communication objectives. These may include, for example, a simultaneous chat function and screen/file sharing.
Ensure that you have the proper infrastructure for technologies and programs needed to support your remote workers.
Encourage employees to explore the software and technology to maintain real-time communications with colleagues and superiors.
Wherever possible, encourage giving feedback remotely in video format so that the parties can read each other's body language and hear their tone of voice. This will go a long way in terms of preventing misinterpretation and negativity bias.
Look into project visibility/management software. These programs tend to allow managers to see what employees are accomplishing and let employees see how their work relates to corporate objectives. Many also offer real-time visibility.
Make sure employees have the tools they need to take advantage of video conferencing programs. For example, providing company laptops with cameras, processing speed, and information security software will allow people to video conference properly. Consider Voice over IP (VoIP) programs that can route calls to their cellular phones and provide a telephone connection.
Instant messaging, group chat, as well as file and screen sharing are all features that can facilitate real-time feedback and engagement.
Create networking opportunities and fun events.
Part of the problem when it comes to remote work is the disconnection from what has traditionally been viewed as the workplace. Regular constructive feedback helps to reverse that disconnection. It also helps to work out minor issues without needing a more public, intimidating forum. In addition, exchanging feedback starts a direct conversation that allows managers to monitor employees and identify symptoms of burnout. It fosters higher morale, better information exchange, the value of learning from mistakes early on, and opportunities for employees to show how they have improved.
As more and more companies (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) discover the perks and benefits of fully remote working teams or hybrid workplaces, it is clear that many businesses will not return to the traditional office model. And to ensure that remote workers remain engaged, productive, and collaborative, it is important to maintain processes that will facilitate clear and timely constructive feedback.
Constructive feedback goes beyond pointing out mistakes. Constructive feedback offers opportunities for employees to learn from their mistakes, provides guidance toward professional improvement, and deals with potential issues in a timely fashion so that project work can be back on track.
Constructive feedback promotes employee engagement and loyalty, creates a positive corporate culture geared toward learning and growth, and makes team collaborations more effective.
Give employees regular feedback in respectful, encouraging ways. Offer guidance on performance expectations and focus on the behavior and not the employees themselves.