Don’t Bottle It In: How to Give Better (Constructive) Feedback At Work

Linda Le Phan

Whenever you’re working as part of a team, there will inevitably be a point where friction or disagreements come about. This is true in life in general, however it’s especially true when it comes to the workplace. And whether you like it or not, resolving conflict effectively is critical to being a successful employee.

For the majority of us, facing conflict is not a skill that comes naturally – let alone being able to manage conflict constructively! But learning this particular skill will help you stand out to both your manager(s) and your peers as a valuable asset to the team.

Here’s how to give better constructive feedback at work: 

First Step: Prepare to Be Assertive

Giving feedback, whether good or bad, can sometimes feel awkward. Many of us share the same fears when preparing to give feedback: “What if he takes this the wrong way?” “Is this going to poison everyone else against me?” “Maybe I should just keep my head down and not say anything.” “I don’t need to be too direct. I’ll just hint at the problem and she’ll understand what I’m saying”

Think about the bosses you’ve had in the past. In all likelihood, the most effective supervisors are the ones who had clear expectations and provided constructive feedback about your performance. Although our tendency is often to avoid an issue in hopes that it will go away, problems most often escalate if appropriate feedback isn’t provided early in the process. On the other hand, approaching feedback too aggressively can easily make your colleague feel overwhelmed. It’s important to strike a balance by being clear and assertive.

 

5 Things that Make Feedback More Constructive

So now that you’ve decided to provide constructive feedback, how can you make the conversation productive? Consider the five following elements that make feedback better:

  • Be specific. Before you meet with the person you’re providing feedback to, think about your goals. What specific behaviors or performance issues have you noticed? Writing down notes before your meeting can help you stay on track.
  • Emphasize strengths and weaknesses. Nobody likes to hear an enumeration of their many faults. Instead, think objectively about the person’s performance. What areas are they knocking out of the park? Where could they stand to improve? Even with colleagues who are struggling at work, there are usually a few elements to highlight as strengths. Reframing weaknesses as areas for growth can also make people feel less defensive about their job performance.
  • Be collaborative. Feedback feels like a one-way process, with you delivering a pronouncement about the other person’s performance. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The best feedback is collaborative, with each party learning something about the other. So rather than spending the whole time talking, ask questions and listen. What is the employee’s perspective about his performance? Does she agree with your assessment? Are there other factors that are making a project go poorly? What institutional barriers might be hindering performance?
  • Create a plan for improved performance. Once you have identified areas for growth, it’s time to get active about solutions. Again, creating a remediation plan should be a collaborative endeavor. Establish your expectations about timelines or outcomes. Then, sit back and listen to the employee’s solutions. It often helps to make a specific, written plan that is shared with all relevant parties. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and prevents the “he said, she said” problem in the future.
  • Follow up! The process of delivering feedback is an ongoing one. It doesn’t simply end when the immediate conversation is over. Follow up after a few days to see if any new issues have come to light. This promotes transparency, which can increase the likelihood that your constructive feedback will stick. Remember to check in not only about progress toward goals, but also about how your coworker feels about the work environment. Constructive feedback should satisfy everyone by helping to achieve the team’s objectives while making people feel supported.

 

Practice Your Delivery

Now that you know what to say, the only remaining thing is how to say it. These tips can help:

  • Practice on a friend, aiming for a confident, personable tone.
  • Focus on the problem, not the person. Avoid personal attacks or value judgments. Instead, be practical and solution-focused.
  • Lead with strengths. Start out by reiterating the person’s value to the team, rather than starting in on flaws.
  • Keep it private. Pull the person aside, rather than giving feedback in front of a group. This also give your colleague a chance to be candid.
  • Stay focused on the present. Don’t bring up problems from the past unless they are truly relevant to the current situation.

 

Then, just get out there and do it!

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Linda Le Phan is the Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.