Managing People

Helping First-time Managers with Constructive Feedback

November 2, 2022
March 8, 2024
Emma Stenhouse
Lattice Team

Receiving critical feedback can be hard. And without the right strategies in place, it can leave first-time managers feeling awkward, ineffective, or downright disengaged. While newly promoted managers may get plenty of advice on how to give feedback, they’re sometimes lacking concrete strategies for dealing with the feedback they receive in return.

When we consider that 65% of first-time managers already feel anxious about their transition to additional responsibility, it’s clear that intentional support from team leaders and People teams is crucial. What’s needed is a clear plan to guide new managers toward taking constructive feedback in their stride — while also using it to inform and improve their day-to-day work. 

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Employee Feedback

Feedback plays an essential role in boosting employee retention, development, and engagement. It also helps drive collaboration and communication between teams. 

Feedback can be delivered in a formal context, like performance reviews between managers and their teams. It can also be found in informal interactions, such as comments gleaned from emails, one-to-one meetings, or Slack messages.

Both forms are vital for inspiring first-time managers to perform at their best. However, delivery is key to making sure feedback stays relevant and meaningful.

The most effective workplace feedback is constructive, because it helps shape positive behaviour changes. But without proper context, intention, and specificity, feedback can sometimes veer into destructive territory, which can damage motivation and trust within the workplace. 

Scientists recognise constructive and destructive feedback as distinctly different, each with its own specific characteristics.  

Constructive Feedback
Destructive Feedback
Is considerately delivered  Is inconsiderate
Focuses on specific aspects of work  May focus on personal traits
Guides on how to improve Doesn’t offer any suggestions for improvement
Is targeted on a professional level May elicit feelings of failure, anger, and distrust 
Examples of constructive feedback include: I loved your presentation, but the timeline for the different deliverables still isn’t clear to me. Can we go over it again? Examples of destructive feedback include: You only care about how you look to the CEO, and always take the credit for our hard work.   

Constructive feedback:

  • Is considerately delivered 
  • Focuses on specific aspects of work 
  • Guides on how to improve
  • Is targeted on a professional level 

Examples of constructive feedback include: I loved your presentation, but the timeline for the different deliverables still isn’t clear to me. Can we go over it again?

Destructive feedback:

  • Is inconsiderate
  • May focus on personal traits 
  • Doesn’t offer any suggestions for improvement
  • May elicit feelings of failure, anger, and distrust 

Examples of destructive feedback include: You only care about how you look to the CEO, and always take the credit for our hard work.   

“The easiest way to tell constructive and destructive feedback apart in the workplace is how it’s delivered,” said Lorena Pérez, CPO at Novakid. “Constructive feedback is delivered in a caring way. It’s focused on workplace performance or behaviours, but also offers support to improve or develop where necessary.

“In contrast, when feedback is delivered in an aggressive, rude, unpolite, or disrespectful way, it can be harmful to the person receiving it. If negative feedback is based on the person and not their performance, this can also be damaging.”  

In an ideal world, workplace feedback should always be constructive, and form part of continuing developmental conversations. 

But in reality, that’s not always the case—and if first-time managers don’t have the support to process negative feedback, it could harm their emotional wellbeing and motivation long-term. Preparing managers to expect feedback is important, but having the support and strategies in place to help them process it successfully is paramount.

Learning From Constructive Feedback: 4 Strategies and Tips

Feedback might help drive engagement, but accepting (and learning from) feedback is challenging. But learning to take feedback well is a skill that everyone can work on. And with a bit of practice over time, new managers can become more intentional about how they respond to and learn from workplace feedback. 

1. Manage your emotional response. 

“Feedback can feel personal, and sometimes accepting any form of constructive criticism is difficult,” said Adrienne Couch, human resources analyst at “Manage your emotional response by listening to what the other person has to say, and take the time to internalise it before reacting.” 

This approach helps first-time managers move away from reactive or defensive responses, towards a more calm and measured approach. It helps show your team that you not only trust them to share their thoughts, but value any type of feedback they give as a way to improve your performance. 

2. Avoid challenging the feedback.

While it can sometimes be tempting to push back if feedback seems unfair or you don’t agree with it, this can make your direct reports less likely to be completely open and honest next time. Negative feedback, even when it’s ultimately constructive, can naturally make us feel defensive. But all feedback is an opinion and something that should be valued, rather than challenged.         

“Keeping an open mind is very important,” said Couch. “Listen with the aim of understanding — not immediately responding. Rather than attempting to explain yourself and your decisions further, or challenging the feedback, focus on how the feedback can ultimately help you improve.” 

3. Ask follow-up questions.

Once a team member has offered their feedback, it’s a good time to ask for more detail on how to move forward. Use your communication skills and ask open-ended questions,  making sure to give people the opportunity to respond thoughtfully.  

Be aware that some employees might feel uncomfortable explaining their critical feedback to you face-to-face, so be sure to make it clear that responding is optional, and give them alternative options to respond in a way that makes them comfortable. By engaging in a discussion around the feedback, you highlight the fact that it means something to you, and that you’re genuinely interested in understanding their perspective.    

“Follow-up questions are especially important if you weren’t already aware of the issue,” said Archie Payne, president of CalTek Staffing. “The more information you can glean about a problem, its impact, and possible ways to address it, the better you’ll be able to learn from it and make real, impactful improvements.”

4. Keep a record and review it over time.

While it might seem strange to keep a record of what’s effectively criticism, it can be a valuable practice to track new issues, or spot when the same type of feedback pops up regularly. “Keeping a document with a note of feedback relating to specific topics can help you identify patterns, and potentially uncover any underlying root causes of specific issues,” said Payne.  

“For example, if one person says your management style is too hands-off, but six say they want more autonomy, you can safely conclude that adjusting to increase employee autonomy will make you a better manager for the majority of your team.”

The Feedback Blueprint for First-time Managers

Asking for feedback from your team is a lot less daunting if you’ve got a clear process to follow. Here’s our six-step blueprint to help build strong feedback loops that foster transparency and growth.

1. Ask for feedback frequently.

Rather than wait for yearly performance management reviews to roll around, encourage an ongoing feedback conversation as a normal part of your work environment. During both formal team meetings and quick check-ins, it can be useful to start with a template to guide the conversation. Helpful questions include:

  • Is there anything more I can do to support you at work? Let’s brainstorm some ideas.
  • Do you have enough time to complete your tasks?
  • Can you give some specific examples of how I can do better next time?
  • I’d love to hear what’s working for you, and what’s not.

Expert Tip: “Collect feedback through a range of different channels. Performance reviews, 360-feedback, one-on-one meetings, and informal chats are all great times to discuss any feedback and suggestions that your team may have.” Lorena Pérez. 

2. Request feedback from cross-functional peers. 

While you should always ask your direct team for regular feedback, don’t forget to include anyone else you work with, too. This could include employees from another department who offered support for a short-term project, or freelancers who have added external expertise. Their views can help add a different perspective and diversity of opinion that might not be found within your direct team.  

Expert Tip: “Constructive feedback can be difficult to receive, especially as a first-time manager. But it's important to remember that it's almost always given to help you improve. Try to frame feedback as a gift, and be grateful to the person who took the time to give it.” Shaun Martin.

3. Know what to ask for.

All feedback is valuable, but learning how to gather effective and constructive feedback can take time to master. Creating a feedback culture involves letting all team members know that open and honest feedback will always be appreciated. And whether that means a request for some informal feedback, or a constructive feedback agenda template, it all helps keep those lines of communication open.     

Expert Tip: “An effective yet often ignored way to collect feedback [in an office environment] is a suggestion box. Place this somewhere with good footfall so your team is more likely to use it. Make sure you act on feedback given, so team members don’t become discouraged about voicing their opinion.” Adrienne Couch.  

4. Lean on senior leader and manager support.

Receiving feedback as a first-time manager has the potential to be an isolating experience. Even if this feedback is ultimately constructive, it can be confidence-breaking or relationship-altering if it's not met with meaningful next steps. 

This is when senior team leaders and people teams can step in for support and guidance based on their own experiences. If a specific piece of feedback has left you feeling unsettled, or you’re unsure how to adjust your day-to-day work in response, it’s a great idea to ask for their advice

Expert Tip: “My first advice is for new managers to listen to and think critically about all feedback they receive, even if their knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss it. This doesn’t mean you have to change in response to every piece of feedback you get, but you should stay open to the possibility that you can improve whenever you’re given the opportunity.” Archie Payne.

5. Ask for clarification if necessary. 

After actively listening to any feedback from your team, you might need to ask some clarifying questions to make sure you’ve fully understood what they’re saying and there hasn’t been any miscommunication. Asking for specific examples of how something can be improved can also help you zoom in on what you might need to change. 

Expert Tip: “If you're not sure what the person giving the feedback is trying to say, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. It's better to get a clear understanding of what they're trying to tell you than to make assumptions.” Shaun Martin.

6. Set an example for your team.

Establishing an open and honest feedback culture starts at the top, but it’s also down to first-time managers to set the bar for their team. Building your team upon a foundation of trust helps create a team where collaboration is encouraged, productivity is improved, and employees feel motivated to do their best.     

Expert Tip: “Be fully present and observant at the workplace. This can help you gauge the effectiveness of your management without needing to request intentional feedback.” Archie Payne. 

Great Feedback Fosters a More Transparent, Effective Workplace 

Good feedback helps enhance the employee experience and improve team performance. But choosing the right tools for gathering feedback is also crucial. Make sure you offer a range of options to suit your whole team, whether that’s an anonymous suggestion box, informal check-ins in the team Slack channel, or regular one-to-one meetings. Solutions like Lattice can help organisations collate all of their feedback into one place, making it easier to identify trends across their employee experience, take action to make changes, and track new issues over time. 

From informal comments on company platforms like Slack, to public goals that encourage accountability, feedback helps drive an effective — and authentic — workplace. For help creating a culture that gives feedback the recognition it deserves, download our eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Feedback.