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Constructive Feedback in the Workplace


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Feedback at Work - Give and Take

What can you say to your employees and how can you say it?
Where can you give and get feedback?
How can you bring out the best in your staff?
How do you handle difficult interchanges without inflaming the situation?
How do you respond to critical feedback yourself?
These are common questions, many of them reflecting frustration and fear of dealing with the 'hard stuff' of managing people. But employee feedback doesn't have to be difficult.

Positive feedback, when you tell people they've done well, should be easy. For example:

  • thanking people for doing a job well
  • commending them for solving a problem for you
  • discussing progress with teams and praising their commitment
  • celebrating successes when team members' combined efforts have paid off
This is the kind of feedback that everyone enjoys; the kind that motivates employees to perform well consistently. Here are some more practical strategies for improving feedback at work.

Give Feedback to Encourage People

Give feedback to spur people to continue 'putting-in' great effort, or to help them through setbacks, or when employees lack confidence or skills. Respect people for the value of their time, their work and their commitment. Show your respect with words that make people feel good.

Try saying, "You're right!" when someone successfully challenges an idea or work practice. Ask, "Can you spare a few minutes?" when you need to interrupt someone at work. Then wait for the positive reactions.

Use Feedback to Overcome Negativity

A leader must remain optimistic at all times, but how can you convert negativity into something positive? When someone says, "That's a stupid idea!" you could respond, "How could we change it to make it more realistic?" Or when an employee says, "We tried this last year and it didn't work", you could reply, "Perhaps, but what if we look at what went wrong and do things differently..." Always try to turn the attitude around to considering other possibilities.

Coaching is the Best Feedback

Coaching is the best kind of feedback. Coaching is based on mutual respect, strict confidentiality and trust. A coach believes that people are able to change the way they operate and achieve more, if they are given the opportunity and are willing to do something about it.

Questioning is a fundamental skill of coaching. A coach asks questions to:

  • assess where the person might need help
  • discover how s/he can best help
  • help people find solutions for themselves.

Turn Criticism into Constructive Feedback

Avoid employee feedback that however unintentionally criticizes the person rather than their actions. If you leave them feeling humiliated and resentful, they will be even more reluctant to change. You can't ignore the problem if something is obviously wrong, but there is a difference between attacking the person and constructive feedback.

Talking about a "bad attitude" is unlikely to be helpful because the employee won't know what they need to change. Telling someone they are incompetent or lazy is a personal attack on their character and will probably lead to an emotional response.

Constructive criticism means starting from a different perspective. Your criticism should be factual, impersonal and timely. The value of changing their behavior must also be clear. You might say, "This week I've noticed you've been late to three sales briefings and now you want to leave early today for a dental appointment. When you behave so casually the rest of the team feel resentful and tomorrow someone will have to do your work for you. So what can we do about it?" Now here's a chance for the person to respond.

Giving Feedback in Really Difficult Situations

Some situations may have you feeling anxious and finding the right words to say at that moment may not come easily. So, next time you are feeling uncomfortable about an impending confrontation, try this four-step plan:

1. Prepare yourself - checking facts and positions, dealing with feelings.
2. Approach the situation constructively - using the right words that you have prepared.
3. Deal with excuses - respectfully.
4. Make sure people can do what they say they will.


Encouraging Feedback from Others

Do you listen carefully when your staffs complain about a customer or a situation? Or do you dismiss their comments because they haven't happened to you? As a business owner or manager you need feedback to find out immediately if something is wrong, or to hear what a customer has said, or if relationships are growing tense.

How do you encourage that kind of feedback? Listen attentively to what people have to say. This is quite different from hearing, which is a mostly passive physiological response. True listening isn't all that easy, and takes practice and many slip-ups. Really listening - actively listening - involves having an open body posture, warmth in your voice and paraphrasing what the other person is saying. Try listening to your staff, actively listening, even though your schedule is full and business is frantic, and see how trust develops.

Accepting Negative Feedback

Negative feedback? It's a little like letting the genie out of the bottle and then finding you can't put it back. However, accepting negative feedback gracefully and gratefully is a skill practiced by great leaders. Remember, though, other people may not be aware of how to give negative feedback diplomatically, like you have. So take a deep breath and swallow your pride.

You may find these guidelines useful when receiving negative feedback.

  • Listen without interruption - you may learn something of real value.
  • If you hear something you don't agree with, simply say, "That's interesting!" and discuss it at the end.
  • Ask questions to clarify what exactly went wrong; what you did or didn't do.
  • Acknowledge what is true, but don't necessarily change your position - you may have good reasons for your actions.
  • Before taking any action ask for time to think and then get back to the person.
Can feedback really help to improve working relationships and productivity? Remember, feedback doesn't always have to be negative. Start by looking for occasions when you can give positive feedback and remember to plan carefully for the occasions when you have to give negative feedback - and make it constructive. Try some of these ideas and see what happens.

2006 (c) Jennifer McCoy. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Jennifer McCoy, Melbourne, Australia
More Details about workplace communication here. Jennifer McCoy is a Senior Associate of Business Performance Pty Ltd, a company providing practical online information and resources in a range of business areas, including workplace communication. The company's guides, tools and templates assist organizations engage and develop people, manage organizational change and improve project delivery. Download her practical guide, 2 Way Feedback, and the free introductory chapter at

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-01-16 00:08:10 in Employee Articles

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