February 8th, 2016
Tips, Tools and Tutorials
Whether as a team member or as a manager, it can be hard to give good feedback. It’s all too easy to misstep and deliver constructive criticism where the listener feels there’s too much “criticism” and not enough “constructive.”
Delivering constructive criticism is important when working to maintain company culture, encourage creative thinking, and have healthy working relationships. If you work with other people, you should take stock of how you offer criticism and keep these tips in mind.
Here are a few ways to deliver feedback that keeps it constructive, fosters creativity, and avoids hurt feelings.
Think of how you communicate with someone you really respect: you choose your words carefully, and approach them humbly, though openly and honestly. If you treat the person you’re talking to with respect, they will be more receptive when you take this approach.
Part of respecting the person is avoiding hostile or insulting language. Don’t make personal attacks or assign blame. Use phrases like, “It’s my understanding that…” and “I feel…” rather than “You always…” or “I’m so tired of…”
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s hard to receive criticism, particularly if it’s from a manager, where the power dynamic can cause stress. Be sure to communicate with your words and demeanor that you respect the person to whom you’re giving the feedback.
The Feedback Sandwich is a three-part tool for delivering constructive criticism. It works like this: Positive, Improvement, Positive.
Positive: focus on the strengths of the person you’re talking to, or the strengths of the way they handled a particular situation.
Improvement: provide the criticism as an area for improvement, or how things could be better.
Positive: summarize your feedback by (a) restating the positive comments you made at the beginning and (b) stating the positive results that will follow if the criticism is acted upon.
It’s a sandwich analogy because you wedge the area for improvement between two positive points, just as sandwich fillings are wedged between two pieces of bread.
This method is particularly good for giving feedback to people you don’t know well. Over time, when you have established a strong relationship with the person, you may be able to go straight to the critique itself (while still being respectful, of course).
Vague feedback isn’t helpful. It is not constructive to say: “You’ve made a good start on this report but I don’t like some of the recommendation sections or the conclusion. They need to be improved.”
Improved how? Give specific examples. Say, “Good start to the report, but we can improve it by giving another example for the recommendations on pages 9 and 10. Also, the conclusion needs to make the reader more excited about the possibilities moving forward. I think using stronger language would be more effective.”
This feedback is specific and actionable, clearly showing the individual what needs to be improved and how. It also focuses more on objective points rather than subjective opinions. Saying, “I don’t like it” is a vague opinion that doesn’t indicate how the report can be improved.
It’s empowering to be asked for suggestions on managing a situation. By asking them for ideas, you demonstrate that you respect them, and they will be more engaged in finding a solution to the problem.
It will also prompt a discussion, which is a better way of resolving an issue than a one-way critique. You may even learn something new about the situation or find there is a better way of addressing it than you realized.
Once you have delivered the constructive criticism, have heard their ideas on how to make positive changes, and have agreed on the actions moving forward, trust the person to act.
Give them a chance to make the changes, rather than hovering over their shoulder or making the changes yourself.
By following these five steps, you will give truly constructive criticism, the kind that leads to positive change, without unnecessary tension and hurt feelings.
What are the ways you deliver constructive criticism? What doesn’t work? Leave us a comment below.
Read our ebook Metrics that Matter to help you learn how to use data to make constructive critiques.
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