© Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com
Casserole 5fff1853103f1

Feedback Is Best Served Warm (and 11 More Tips for Sharing Constructive Criticism)

Jan. 13, 2021
When done skillfully and with intent, even corrective interactions can come across as helpful and positive.

Effective leaders understand the benefit of liberally providing both positive and corrective feedback. Positive feedback demonstrates appreciation for the effort and value for the person. Corrective feedback, when done well, demonstrates the desire to help the team member to grow and develop.

Here are 12 tips for building the habit of giving feedback and doing it well:

Focus on performance, not personality. Always deliver feedback in reference to specific actions or behaviors, either by expressing appreciation for an action and the resulting benefit, or discussing an action or behavior that you want to see improved. “You’re so smart” is not nearly as valuable as “I really appreciated the way that you helped the team come to that conclusion.” With the latter, the person understands the action and the benefit to the team. Regarding corrective feedback, a statement such as, “The project was not delivered on time, which resulted in a big cost penalty from our customer” can lead to a discussion of reasons and corrective action. On the other hand, “You really messed up that project, as usual” is likely to simply prompt a defensive reaction.

Emphasize facts, not feelings. “We have received seven complaints about missed deliveries” has more value than, “You really disappoint me.” Facts verify the reality behind the discussion and, again, keep the discussion from becoming a personal matter.

Focus on the individual effort. Often the workplace includes team efforts. If the feedback is about the team’s results, the discussion needs to include the team. If the feedback is for an individual on the team, the discussion needs to focus on that person’s specific actions or his/her specific contribution to the team’s effort. Unless there is evidence that one person single-handedly impacted the team’s results, it is unfair and disheartening to be confronted with the team’s performance.

Feedback is best served warm. In other words, provide feedback as soon as possible after (or even during) the activity. The longer the time gap between the action and the feedback, the harder it will be for the recipient to tie the two together. The impact or benefit is much reduced if the person has difficulty recalling all of the facts regarding the action due to lapsed time.

Be clear, direct, and specific. A discussion that is focused on specific action or behavior and the specific results leads to a more productive analysis of the cause and a better definition of the specific action plan required to improve. Speaking in generalities ends with little understanding and minimal impact on the future. Feedback takes an investment of time and attention to develop value.

Focus on the future. The goal of feedback is not to criticize a person or to gather a history. The goal is to help the recipient to grow and improve. The discussion of the situation or the past history is just to establish the need for an action plan. Therefore, the discussion should be weighted in favor of the future, with positive expectations for improvement and growth.

Be intentional. It is too easy to move quickly from one meeting to another, or from one interaction to another. Leaders need to develop the habit of noticing. They must keep their eyes open for opportunities to recognize positive actions and behaviors and to correct undesired actions and behaviors.

Use your words wisely. Feedback should be a respectful, professional discussion aimed at producing a positive outcome. Our language and behavior should be in line with this objective. Better to use the word “I” in demonstrating the impact and refrain from using the word “you,” which can sound judgmental of the person rather than the behavior.

Provide feedback in digestible doses. If you expect your feedback to have an impact on future performance, it is better for the recipient to walk away with one action item regarding one issue. Storing up several items for discussion results in a confusing mess for the recipient to sort out after the discussion.

Make it a two-way conversation. With a goal of developing an action plan for future performance, the feedback session needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue. People are more likely to implement an action plan that they have developed than one that is forced upon them. Therefore, once the issue has been identified and agreed upon, the feedback discussion works best when the leader moves to a coaching role, helping the recipient to identify and own the cause of the problem and the action plan for improvement. It goes without saying that feedback is done best face-to-face or at least person-to-person, never via text, email, or letter.

Balance negative or corrective feedback with affirmational or positive feedback. People respond more strongly to negative than positive statements. That’s why relationships are stronger when positive statements outweigh negative statements by a factor of 5:1 or even 8:1. Even when giving corrective feedback, the leader should find some positive things to say about the other person: the part of the process that was done correctly, a belief in their ability to improve, etc. When a person only hears negative comments or criticism from a boss, they lose heart and look for the door.

Develop the habit of providing feedback. Feedback is the tool with which we nudge the actions and behaviors within the organization to conform with our desired culture and vision. It takes many of these nudges to achieve the results that we hope for. We need to continually and liberally provide effective feedback.

When done well, both positive and corrective feedback can feel like positive interaction that is beneficial to the recipient and result in growth and improved performance. Done well, they both identify the behavior that is valued and expected. And they show the value that the leader places upon the team member and the desire to assist in building their future.

Ken Vaughan is President of New Horizon Partners, Inc., a business strategy consulting and leadership coaching and development organization. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!