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How to Give Good Feedback at Work: 5 Tips for Constructive Criticism

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 20, 2020 • 3 min read

For many team leaders and employees, the idea of a feedback session is associated with stress and anxiety. After all, having an honest discussion with a superior or fellow team member about job performance can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. When done correctly, giving feedback can be constructive, candid, and an essential aspect of a healthy company culture.



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Why Is Constructive Feedback Important?

Constructive feedback delivered in the right way can lead to positive change in a person’s performance or specific behavior. A productive feedback session is a great way to analyze and correct past performance as well as encourage positive performance in the future. When positive feedback and constructive criticism are delivered effectively, they can boost the morale and operational success of your entire company or unit. When feedback is given poorly, it can have the opposite effect, causing your employees to become disaffected or feel alienated.

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving feedback is an essential part of performance management. Everything from your tone, body language, and choice of words can influence the way your feedback is received. Here are some tips to help you give feedback more effectively:

  1. Give feedback on a regular basis. Some people view the feedback process with dread. Nobody enjoys difficult conversations, and as a result, team leaders often delay face-to-face employee feedback sessions. However, it’s important to share feedback on a consistent basis. Providing feedback regularly ensures that performance issues are corrected in real time, rather than festering and compounding over the course of a quarter or year. Regular check-in sessions normalize the process of offering feedback and receiving feedback, strengthening the communication skills of both parties and making tough conversations easier.
  2. Consider your own intentions. The purpose of feedback is not to make a person feel bad or lower their self-esteem. The kind of feedback that aims only to punish or denigrate an employee is generally not productive and will only inspire defensiveness in response. Before sharing feedback, take time to consider your own intentions. Are you planning on giving negative feedback as a way of blowing off steam or asserting your own dominance? That kind of feedback rarely leads to effective results and is unlikely to change a person’s behavior or performance. Effective feedback generally comes from a genuine desire to help someone improve, not to settle some kind of personal vendetta.
  3. Balance critical feedback with praise. The most useful feedback balances both positive reinforcement and critique of areas that need improvement. If you overwhelm someone with criticism, they’re likely to get defensive and shut down rather than engaging in improvement and problem-solving. Though it’s important to let team members know when they’re doing something the wrong way, it’s equally important to praise them when they’re doing well. Ending a feedback session on a positive note will go a long way towards boosting employee engagement and morale while still getting your point across.
  4. Be specific and clear. Feedback sessions and performance reviews are an opportunity to praise good performance and offer tough feedback, but many people fall into the trap of offering vague platitudes or confusingly broad comments. The goal should be to give actionable feedback with specific examples of negative and positive things the team member has done. For instance, if you tell someone that their work “needs improvement” or needs to be “taken to the next level,” they’re likely to have a hard time interpreting and acting upon your feedback. Good feedback is filled with specific suggestions, not ambiguous observations.
  5. Make it a two-way conversation. Effective employee feedback sessions should be a dialogue, not a monologue. You should leave yourself open to getting feedback from your coworkers. Not only can two-way feedback foster a more open and honest work environment, but it also can help you discover ways to improve your own performance and demeanor. Make yourself available to receive feedback and criticism, and encourage each employee to speak to you with candor and frankness. Giving and receiving honest feedback should be a process that involves the whole team.
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