When it comes to perceptions about giving and receiving feedback, there’s a divide. While most managers believe they’re offering a sufficient amount of constructive feedback, a Gallup poll found that employees disagree, with a mere 20% reporting that they’d had a performance discussion in the past six months and 65% saying they’re hungry for more feedback.
Today’s leaders are facing the difficult task of having to lead through disruptive and uncertain times—and in many cases having to do so virtually. Providing effective feedback is an important component of keeping employee productivity and growth moving forward during this time. Thankfully, giving constructive feedback is a skill that can be learned like any other. Below are some tips for how to start.
3 types of feedback
First, let’s examine the different types of feedback and how each works for different situations.
Exactly what it sounds like, task feedback focuses on constructive conversations about specific projects and duties. This is likely the most common type of feedback, the kind leaders offer consistently to keep work on track. When offering task feedback, it’s important to be specific and direct without overwhelming your team members with too much at once.
Skill feedback is more future-focused than task feedback as it involves identifying then developing strengths over time. Leaders can consider this as a sort of “antidote” to the necessary criticisms of everyday task feedback as it works to hone and validate employees’ specific talents.
For the big picture, consider performance feedback. This is the area that views an employee as a whole and measures their overall performance against needs and expectations. Remember, the majority of team members are hungry for feedback. And as with anything, you can’t solve a problem you don’t know about. So, be consistent, direct, and growth-focused while offering performance feedback.
10 tips for giving constructive feedback
Now that we’ve been reminded about the importance of feedback, the three types, and how they work, consider these tips for effective delivery:
1. Keep it relevant
The most effective feedback is tailored to the person you’re giving it to. While this may seem obvious, it’s important to always keep your team member’s specific goals, strengths, and weaknesses in mind while offering constructive criticism. The more closely the feedback aligns with their existing intentions, the more beneficial it’ll be.
2. Stay focused
People, by nature, get anxious, worried, and often defensive when receiving negative feedback, even when it’s constructive. To offset this, make sure to stay focused. You don’t want to overwhelm a team member with too much information and risk burying the helpful feedback in confusion.
3. Be specific
Similar to staying focused, specificity matters when providing constructive feedback. Keep in mind that offering unclear feedback may be worse than giving none at all. Instead, focus on straight-forward, tangible examples with actionable solutions.
4. Speak up in the moment
Especially when it comes to task feedback, timing is important. “Saving up” problems to discuss at a later date is a mistake managers often make, but doing so can overwhelm employees with too much information at once. Instead, note instances—constructive and complimentary—when they happen.
5. Offer context
Understanding is key for making feedback actionable and context is essential for true understanding. Team members need to know why they’re receiving specific feedback, including how their actions affect their work, the work of their team, and even the functioning of the company.
6. Practice active listening
Never forget that one of the fundamental aspects of feedback culture is that it goes both ways. Though you may be in the driver’s seat, it’s still important to be an active listener and welcome open communication.
7. Be compassionate
As in so many situations, compassion and empathy are important. Remember that no employee is a machine and each of us has our own personal stresses and complications. Strive to create an environment of psychological safety for the person receiving the feedback. Coming from a place of empathy can help you better understand issues and create more effective solutions.
8. It's the work, not the person
None of us are defined solely by our mistakes or accomplishments. Instead, we’re complex emotional beings with good days and bad, a reality we have to keep in mind when offering feedback. Effective feedback focuses on constructive criticism of the work, not the person.
9. Be consistent
One of the defining factors of feedback culture is its consistency. Gone are the days of saving up all performance discussions for a single meeting at the end of the year. Instead, work feedback sessions into your regular schedule.
10. Follow up
As with any initiative, feedback is only as good as its follow-through. After all, the purpose of offering constructive criticisms and creating a feedback culture is progress! Because of this, it’s essential to focus on actionable suggestions and to follow-up with team members to ensure that the feedback is hitting the mark.
The verdict is in: Employees are eager for constructive feedback. And while many managers may think they’re doing enough, there’s always room for improvement. That’s the fundamental purpose of feedback culture. Growing and progressing through an ongoing cycle of open communication keeps us all reaching for a more successful future.