For managers, providing feedback can be daunting— especially when that feedback isn’t entirely positive. Plenty of managers avoid giving critical feedback or "constructive criticism" for reasons ranging from a fear that it’ll upset the employee, to being afraid to affect a seemingly positive workplace culture, to even not knowing how. But giving both constructive and positive feedback is necessary for both the achievement of company goals, and for employee development.
1. Why constructive feedback is important
2. Constructive feedback: telling vs. discussing
3. How to give constructive feedback
4. Scripts for constructive feedback conversations
Why constructive feedback is important
Constructive feedback is really at the core of good developmental conversations. It’s an integral part of the employee understanding their duties and the company culture— knowing this, and being reminded of it when necessary, is essential to their overall happiness in their job. After all, without feedback staff will never have a clear idea of how to improve; instead, they’ll either feel frustrated that they aren’t receiving this vital guidance, or they may think they’re doing everything perfectly— neither of which is an ideal situation.
Of course, it can be challenging to give feedback — especially when you feel like it will be perceived as negative feedback. According to Yael Bacharach, the co-founder and director of training at Bacharach Leadership Group: “It is that phase of a conversation in which you want to share your observations and your point of view, express your opinion, take a position, and make a suggestion.” That’s a lot to cover, and might feel to a new manager that you’re being intrusive, or going too far to impose your point of view on the employee, or it just feels awkward.
Just remember: giving feedback is taking a preventative measure on the part of a manager to protect an employee and their interests. Being honest to an employee has a huge value -- it’s meant to stop a worse conversation down the line. Instead, giving constructive feedback can empower and enhance an employee’s skills— and managers have to act as guides in order for that to happen.
Constructive feedback: telling vs. discussing
Something essential to note about constructive feedback is that it should be a conversation. It’s not about issuing directives, but starting with a problem you can solve together. Bacharach says it’s key to be specific and use concrete examples, but also make sure that any suggestions are in regard to a behavior, and not the person you’re addressing. Moreover, it’s best to ask employees for their ideas in regard to how to deal with the issue — a manager can weigh in, especially if the employee is struggling to come up with something, but ultimately this should be a back and forth, and they should feel ownership over the strategy, once it’s decided.
Scenarios that necessitate constructive feedback, with scripts
1. When you’re noticing a pattern: If you have a staff member who’s constantly making the same mistake, or has a bad work habit, you have to address it with specific examples. Constructive feedback is the perfect way to do so; you have the fact that it’s a repeated behavior to support why you’re bringing it up, but you’re also not going to continue let them do it, then bring it up months later at their performance review.
Script: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to the morning meeting several times this month. We totally understand that public transit isn’t under your control, but this can be really disruptive to your coworkers. Is there something going on that makes it hard for you to be on time?"
2. For developmental purposes: When you notice a staff member struggling with a skill or unable to execute a task, constructive feedback can help you get to the root of the issue and uncover a solution. Perhaps they were never properly trained, or they just need to feel as though they have permission to make mistakes; whatever it is, offer feedback that can help them tackle that weakness and improve.
Script: “How are you feeling about creating that quarterly report? Is there anything you need my advice on?”
3. To assess yourself: Strong leaders ask for feedback, as well. You can ask a staff member if the way you’re managing is helping them, or if it’s actually creating more obstacles. This can be a part of a constructive feedback conversation that you’re having for another reason, but it can also be its own check in or conversation.
Script: “How have you been feeling about our biweekly one-on-ones? Are you finding them helpful, or are there there other things I can do as a manager to better support you?”
4. To manage the workload: Sometimes, a staff member’s workload isn’t realistic, or they feel strained and unsupported. If you suspect that a staff member is suffering from burnout, have a constructive feedback conversation with them; many people who feel burned out don’t know how to bring it up, and doing so will begin to help them reset by figuring out next steps and moving forward.
Script: “How are you feeling about your workload lately? Does it seem manageable to you, or do you feel like you’re being spread too thin?”
Since constructive feedback is a conversation, you can’t prepare for everything that may come your way during it. Just remember to ask whether your staff member is comfortable receiving feedback, and to keep it behavior-based. With feedback conversations and a true back-and-forth, you and your staff can grow in your positions, and in the ways you work with one another.