The Comprehensive Guide to Giving Constructive Feedback
Feedback is essential for a well-performing workplace. It promotes company growth, individual development, and a fair company culture.
Productivity, career development, and employee retention all benefit from effective feedback—feedback is like the GPS for employee growth.
So what makes feedback effective? For starters, it needs to be constructive.
Oxford Languages defines constructive as "serving a useful purpose; tending to build up." It sounds pretty straightforward. And yet, giving constructive feedback is not always smooth sailing.
You might be concerned that the receiver:
- will take feedback negatively;
- will change their attitudes toward you and create an uncomfortable work environment;
- will not be able to handle the input and have a drop in morale and performance;
- will not use the feedback (especially if they might have already done that in the past);
- will disengage them and prompt them to look for a new job.
But with the right mindset and guidelines, the feedback process will not be a negative experience!
Learn how to effectively use constructive feedback and drive a culture of growth in your company.
🔄 What is constructive feedback in the workplace?
HR professionals need to know when to use employee feedback and, more importantly, how to use it.
Finding the balance between praise and criticism is vital for encouraging improvement without hurting morale.
There are a few key components when giving constructive feedback in the workplace. They are:
- Encouraging positive facets.
- Identifying areas for improvement.
- Suggesting solutions to improve those areas.
Tip #1: Ensure your criticism serves a useful purpose. Don't just give feedback for the sake of giving feedback. Instead, keep the end goal in mind (improving employee performance) and work toward it.
Tip #2: It is vital to balance positive and negative feedback to maintain morale while pointing out improvement opportunities.
Tip #3: Be sure to offer solutions and guidance. Pointing out issues is not enough for framing feedback in a constructive manner.
Tip #4: Remember to keep your feedback constructive even when addressing severe issues or behaviors.
🙅♂️ Constructive vs. destructive feedback
The opposite of constructive is destructive.
You definitely want to avoid destructive feedback: You might end up making employees less productive by giving destructive feedback.
Unfortunately, when it comes to corrective feedback in the workplace, there are a lot of emotions working against you: fear, sadness, confusion, and pride, just to name a few.
If your feedback isn't constructive, you not only risk wasting your time but also getting the opposite effect by negatively impacting the employee's morale.
A few things you can do to avoid destructive feedback are:
- Focus on the action, not the person.
- Offer support and solutions.
- Avoid unclear problems or unrealistic solutions.
- Try not to micromanage.
Some employees are more susceptible to feedback than others, both positive and negative.
Others may quickly become defensive in situations where someone questions their performance.
But constructive feedback will always target behaviors rather than a specific person and their character.
Avoiding destructive criticism
You also want to be careful to offer support and solutions when identifying problems. Simply pointing out an issue or weak point without any advice on improving it is not very constructive.
The employee may not know how to fix the problem, so try to give actionable feedback whenever possible.
Unclear or unrealistic expectations can be a quick way to cause stress and burnout for your employees.
For example, it is important to set clear expectations and realistic goals for employees in leadership positions. Without obtainable goals and a clear path to achieve them, you leave your employees to struggle on their own and doubt their abilities.
The combination of stress, self-doubt, and unclear targets is a recipe for low morale and negative feelings about the project or their job overall.
At the same time, you do not want to micromanage simple or obvious tasks along the way.
Micromanagement can negatively impact an employee's workflow and attitude. Offer guidance along with your pieces of feedback, but don't take away the employee's autonomy unless they require specific help.
🏆 Why you should give constructive criticism
The end goals of constructive criticism are to improve performance and facilitate growth.
You are trying to correct actions or improve a workflow without sacrificing morale or instilling doubt.
Creating a positive feedback culture in the workplace encourages improvement and learning among coworkers.
When properly done, constructive feedback can make an employee feel valued and positively affect morale. Without regular feedback, you leave your employees wondering if they are doing a good job.
Performance-focused feedback is necessary for professional growth as it helps set goals and encourages upskilling.
Without developmental goals and feedback, it is easy for employees to feel stuck in the same old routine. While some may not mind a lack of variety, it may lead others to look for a change.
➡️ Are you wondering what some examples of developmental goals and ways to achieve them are? We have you covered with 14 concrete examples.
➡️ Want to go a step further? Check out our free development plan template.
👀 Different types of feedback
Mastering different types of constructive feedback is an art.
Understanding the difference between criticism and constructive feedback is important for People Operations.
Criticism, by its very nature, is a negative term.
Having the leadership skills to balance the negativity of criticism with constructive guidance is the key to giving effective feedback.
Tip #1: Use positive employee feedback phrases along with your criticism.
Reviewing examples of constructive feedback can be a great exercise. We have compiled a list of 35 example phrases for your inspiration.
Negative employee feedback is needed to identify areas of improvement. In contrast, positive feedback improves morale by pointing out strong areas requiring little to no improvement.
Tip #2: The trick is to keep an overall positive attitude while still identifying the areas needing improvement.
Tip #3: While there are different styles of feedback, the core concept remains the same: constructive communications that suggest action items to reduce common mistakes and set developmental goals.
➡️ Are you still left wondering: Which type of feedback is most helpful? Explore which type of feedback is most helpful in different situations.
💡 10 best practices for giving constructive criticism
There are many layers to quality feedback that ensure the necessary message is conveyed while minimizing any negative impact. Here are ten best practices and extra tips for giving constructive criticism:
1. Identify the specific area for corrective feedback
This may seem obvious, but you need to be sure you have a legitimate reason when it comes to giving corrective feedback. Giving criticism just for the sake of doing it is unlikely to have a positive effect.
Tip #1: Make sure you are addressing a specific issue that employees can improve upon.
Unclear or unnecessary criticism will only lead to frustration for the employee.
Tip #2: Use criticism to address a problem, not create a problem to have something to criticize.
2. State the purpose of your feedback
When giving feedback, be sure to communicate the reason and end goal.
Tip #1: Giving positive feedback as part of a scheduled review is okay, but constructive feedback needs to be deserved and worthwhile.
The end goal will almost always be the betterment of the employee, which will also impact the company's bottom line.
Tip: Let your people know you want to see them improve and continue to grow in their roles, which is why performance feedback is necessary.
3. Give actionable advice
Pointing out a problem without a solution or guidance can do more harm than good.
Plus, pointing out an impossible problem can damage an employee's confidence and burden them unnecessarily.
Tip: Frame a more productive conversation where you can work together on an action plan.
For example, rather than saying, "this is a problem," try asking, "how do we solve this problem?"
4. Pinpoint the areas for improvement and offer specific suggestions
As the human resources manager, you may not always have the answer to every problem. The employee's specialized skills and knowledge in their department likely mean they have more expertise than you when solving the issue.
Tip #1: If you can't offer a solution on your own, give what advice you can and ask the employee how they would go about addressing the problem.
Tip #2: You can also ask if there is anything they need to overcome obstacles in their way. After all, your goal is not only driving performance but also employee enablement. Show the worker that you are on their side and not against them.
5. Use an appreciative tone and tailor the feedback style to the employee
Knowing an employee is helpful when developing feedback for them. Some may take performance feedback in stride, while others may see it as a negative experience. You won't always have a personal relationship with every employee (new hires, remote workers), so use your early interactions to learn more about them.
In any case, be sure you are conveying that they are helping you and the company by being open to qualitative feedback.
Tip: A positive attitude and appreciative language can go a long way to keeping negative emotions at bay.
6. Give the individual an opportunity to respond and be open to their concerns
Try to establish early on that the conversation is a two-way street.
Suppose you are delivering criticism without a response. In that case, you are missing out on the employee's insight which may shed light on the cause of any issues.
If they offer reasoning for the problem, shift your focus to solving that rather than just writing it off as an excuse. With any luck, you can drill down to the root cause and devise a plan to resolve it.
7. Don't sugarcoat your feedback
Maintaining morale is essential when dealing with employee feedback. But at the end of the day, critical feedback needs to be given.
Tip: It doesn't do any good to draw out the issue or downplay a problem only to have it resurface later.
There is a fair chance that the employee is already aware of the issue or where their weaknesses lie. By identifying weak areas and offering suggestions, you may be able to help overcome them. This can result in a more capable and satisfied worker—a win-win in our book.
8. Avoid generalizations
As mentioned earlier, criticism should have a clear purpose.
Tip #1: It is better to tell an employee in an annual performance review that you don't have anything for them than to invent a problem where there isn't one.
Any time you deliver unnecessary criticism, you risk damaging morale and performance.
Tip #2: Always keep the specific issue, solution, and end goal in mind. Telling someone they are good at their job or could do a task better without guidance or reasoning doesn't provide any value.
Continuous feedback, especially without a balanced perspective, can quickly lead to feedback overload.
9. Reiterate support and gratitude
After you have delivered your positive and negative feedback, be sure to reiterate that you appreciate them taking the time to work on their professional development and sharing with you their own feedback.
Tip: An employee showing ambition and a desire to learn is a valuable asset for your company. Be sure to nurture these qualities.
Consider using feedback surveys to learn what employees like and dislike about the process to improve your feedback skills.
You can even create a meeting template for your leadership team. Plus, create and share a sample of constructive feedback examples as inspiration—no need to leave them wondering in the dark.
10. Summarize and set a time for following up
Once you have gone over everything and hopefully come up with some plans and solutions, don't be shy to review and wrap things up.
Tip #1: You may even be able to write up a plan of attack for moving forward. Develop a plan with all action items resulting from the feedback.
Tip #2: Schedule future meetings and consider providing a detailed list of what you discussed. Frame this as an employee development plan and learning experience, not micromanagement.
Tip #3: You want to instill the concept of ongoing feedback while avoiding feedback fatigue.
➡️ Still at a loss for words? Check out 30 constructive feedback examples for specific skills and behaviors scenarios.
🧑🏻💻 5 Tips for delivering feedback to a remote workforce
While much of this advice is universal, it can be more complicated depending on your communication channel and work models.
For example, in remote workplaces, conveying appreciation through text (such as email) can be challenging.
Plus, when thinking of feedback as a pillar of employee development, its role is even more precious for remote workers.
When working remotely, there is less space to learn by observation and by actively listening to conversations in the office space. Employees cannot determine for themselves if they are on the right path.
There is also a minimal opportunity for informal feedback that can, for example, happen by running some ideas by their coworkers.
Tip #1: Feedback becomes even more vital for remote workers to better themselves and address challenges or errors. Ensure remote workers receive timely feedback.
Tip #2: Opting to give feedback via video chat can reduce the risk of a negative interpretation. A positive and friendly video chat is an excellent way to balance the potential negativity of constructive criticism compared to a dry and impersonal email.
Tip #3: You probably have fewer interpersonal interactions with remote employees if you don't share a workspace, so use feedback meetings as an opportunity to connect with them.
Tip #4: Generally, remote workers have fewer opportunities to interact and learn professional skills from their coworkers. So it is even more critical to establish a regular feedback system.
Tip #5: Set up a standard time for one-on-one meetings. For example, you can use these meetings to discuss areas for improvement and brainstorm alternatives for any task that didn't go as planned.
➡️ Create a feedback culture at your workplace with Zavvy
Giving constructive feedback can be challenging, but it is said that nothing worth doing is easy.
Constructive feedback is necessary for meaningful improvement as it helps identify opportunities for growth and development.
But, if you rely solely on annual performance reviews to give feedback, you are missing out on opportunities to promote a growth mindset.
Zavvy can help you strengthen your company culture with our 360-degree feedback software. Our supportive tool turns criticism into an opportunity to grow.
Discover the many benefits of a feedback culture and how Zavvy can help you set yours up.
Book a free 30 minutes demo with our specialists.