Constructive feedback is a positive and negative observation of performance given in a manner that the person receiving it is ready to do better in both cases.
Praising or criticizing someone should not be mixed up with constructive feedback. A harsh reprimand or a pat-on-the-back for some well-performed task works short term. Appreciation or criticism needs to be validated in some form for it to register and give results.
Constructive Feedback in the Workplace
Being in a profession where you are constantly judged on each and every output, you learn to take the good with the bad with equanimity. I have had some great mentors who pointed out errors and explained the reason why. I have worked under toxic bosses who lived to pounce on every mistake. One boss needed all emails written in a certain format, if not, she maintained a chart where she marked you red for the infringement. Real-time live news edits had to be done in 30 minutes if you went over by a minute or two, you were again docked red. There were no green docks for submitting early.
It seemed as if you were in a nightmare of a bad school with a teacher haranguing you for just existing. I was a mature adult with ample experience of working in newspapers, but this lady made me feel as if I was on my first day of kindergarten every day. Obviously, the rate of attrition was high in the organization.
This story may have been experienced in some form by all of us in our work life sometime.
Any error or criticism brought to notice with compassion helps in getting the problem solved and does not offend or belittle anyone.
Constructive feedback phrases should be issue-focused, observations, and informative. Another vital point to be noted is to be objective about the task. Both praise and criticism are judgments, and personal bias creeps in here.
Some Pointers on Constructive Feedback for Managers
1. Be direct in your observations. Do not beat around the bush and lead up to the real issue in a roundabout way. “I want to talk to you about the xyz report that you submitted yesterday,” is better than, “How did you find the xyz report? It had so many graphs and tables and required a lot of research and fact-checking, no.”
2. Avoid making vague statements like people need to do a spell check before submitting a report, or people keep the client feedback in mind when chalking out a plan.
3. If you have found some lacuna in the previous work, be specific: that Blue report had a lot of spelling errors do, please spell check
4. Be sincere in your feedback in the workplace. Do not try to embroider your criticism with a general appreciation of the task and then sneak in a but, although, however, etc. This is like saying the team did well in putting it all together in such a short time but… The ‘but’ here says that in spite of achieving the impossible I am unhappy. Instead, if you say,” A you did a great job of putting the right decorations around the whole venue and B you helped by handling the arrivals efficiently and seeing that they were settled at their designated places. It made for great teamwork.” This feedback shows appreciation and sincerity and will boost the team’s morale.
5. Any feedback to employees should be given in person. Some people like to hide behind technology and send emails or texts. Such faint praise or criticism loses its effectiveness.
6. When giving feedback, do not do a postmortem of what-ifs and maybes. Do not analyze the happenings and why they happened. Just give your observations and what you noticed occurred. Appreciate or provide critical feedback based on what is seen; not how you felt, or what you think should have been done.
7. Always support your feedback with facts and specifics. Without these, the feedback is just praise or criticism.
8. All positive and constructive feedbacks need an empathy of deliverance. The way you say it and the tone you adopt while giving feedback also matters.
9. Feedback given in passing, such as; “oh! by the way, that report was good,” is pointless. It shows carelessness at its worst or indifference at its best.
10. Make your feedback count to the person you are giving it to. Timing too matters. Feedback given days or months after the task is finished holds no relevance. Make it ASAP.
11. Feedbacks should not be given like performance appraisals— yearly or half-yearly. They should be frequent and based on the importance and relevance of the task given and performed; well, adequately or poorly.