CAREER ADVANCEMENT / DEC. 30, 2013
version 7, draft 7

How to Provide Constructive Feedback in Five Simple Ways

Providing feedback is an essential practice for everyone in an organization's workforce. Giving feedback is a task you frequently perform as a manager or supervisor or even as a colleague, letting people know where they are and where to go next in terms of expectations and goals - yours, their own, and the organisation’s.

Feedback is a useful tool especially in situations when unresolved problems persist; errors occur repeatedly, an employee’s performance doesn’t meet your expectations or when a colleague’s work habits disturb you. 

Your objective in giving feedback is to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, either to support effective behavior, or to guide someone back on track toward successful performance. Consequently, the trick is to give it constructively so that it has value and builds things up, not break them down. Here is some advice on how to do so:

 

1. Focus on Description Rather Than Judgment.

Describing behavior is a way of reporting what has occurred, while judging behavior is an evaluation of what has occurred in terms of "right or wrong" or "good or bad". By avoiding evaluative language, you reduce the need for the individual to respond defensively. For example: "You demonstrate a high degree of confidence when you answer customer questions about registration procedures, "rather than, "Your communication skills are good."

2. Focus on Observation Rather Than Inference.

Observations refer to what you can see or hear about an individual's behavior, while inferences refer to the assumptions and interpretations you make from what you see or hear. Focus on what the person did and your reaction. For example: "When you gave that student the Financial Aid form, you tossed it across the counter," rather than describe what you assume to be the person's motivation, "I suppose you give all forms out that way.

3. Focus on Behavior Rather Than the Person

Refer to what an individual does rather than on what you imagine she or he is. To focus on behavior, use adverbs, which describe action, rather than adjectives, which describe qualities. For example: "You talked considerably during the staff meeting, which prevented me from getting to some of the main points," rather than say “You talk too much."

4. Provide a Balance of Positive and Negative Feedback

If you consistently give only positive or negative feedback, people will distrust the feedback and it will become useless.

Whenever possible make your suggestions helpful by including practical, feasible examples. Offering suggestions shows that you have thought past your evaluations and moved to how to improve the situation. Even if people are working up to expected standards, they often benefit from ideas that could help them to perform better.

5. Be Aware of Feedback Overload

Select two or three important points you want to make and offer feedback about those points. If you overload an individual with feedback, he or she may become confused about what needs to be improved or changed. So avoid something like this: "The number of applicants and the time it takes you to enter them are both within the expected ranges. The number of keying errors you are currently making is higher than expected".

Instead try to review the major points you have discussed and summarise the actions items, not the negative points of the other person’s behaviour.

Last but not least, if you can't think of a constructive purpose for giving feedback, don't give it at all.

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