In this guide you’ll learn:
The difference between constructive and destructive feedback with examples
The performance and culture benefits of constructive feedback
A framework for giving constructive feedback
Best practices for ensuring feedback is well-received
Everyone has an answer to the question “Who was your best manager? And who was your worst?” What these answers have in common is the person who advocated for you, helped you grow and develop - and who didn’t.
Many leaders will cite an impressionable manager as having a huge impact on their careers, and getting them to the point where they are today. It is not uncommon to hear leaders discuss how much a strong manager was able to push them and help them develop personally and professionally. Constructive feedback plays a large role in that growth--both giving and receiving feedback. Whether you are trying to become a better manager, or looking to help your direct reports grow, constructive feedback is one of the most important areas to focus on.
While giving and receiving feedback seems simple at first, it requires tactfulness, emotional intelligence, and strong communication skills. In this guide, we break down how to best handle giving and receiving feedback as a manager.
What is constructive feedback?
As its name suggests, constructive feedback is feedback regarding an individual’s performance that can be used to build (construct) successful skills and behaviors.
The constructive element is key because with that approach even giving negative feedback doesn’t become demotivating.
- Positive feedback is often easier for managers to give because there is less hesitation on how to phrase things. However, this also makes it easy to grow complacent as opposed to pushing for improvement.
- Negative feedback on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to bring up. Because it is human nature to put off difficult conversations, the issue or problem can compound the longer a manager waits to offer negative feedback.
It’s important to emphasize that negative feedback does not mean ‘destructive’ feedback.
- Destructive feedback happens when the feedback given is not helpful and leaves the problem unresolved. It can be accusatory, judgemental, subjective, and personal.
- Constructive feedback, whether positive or negative, should result in improved or better outcomes overall.
So how can feedback be delivered in a constructive manner and not come across as aimless criticism? There are a couple of key traits to keep in mind.
- Objectivity— constructive feedback is specific, and tailored to an individual problem, as opposed to being about the person.
- Delivery— ensure that the recipient does not feel attacked. When hurt feelings arise, feedback will feel like a personal slight rather than actionable.
Why is constructive feedback important?
Whether you are in a leadership or not, small or large company, a veteran or newbie in your role, constructive feedback is an important part of growing and maintaining consistency in performance. It also has a direct impact on the overall organizational performance for a few reasons:
Constructive feedback improves performance and professional development.
Frequent feedback, when delivered within the context of recent events or incidents, removes the recency bias that can sometimes present itself in annual or bi-annual performance reviews. It gives the person receiving feedback specific areas to course correct in real-time while allowing the manager providing feedback to make a record of the performance with higher accuracy.
Constructive feedback improves team relationships.
When executed correctly and consistently, constructive feedback encourages honesty and open communication. This builds trust and transparency within the team and can create a strong, supportive team culture.
Constructive feedback helps clarify expectations.
Regular feedback eliminates the guesswork from what is expected, from the employee and the manager. It opens up a conversation to improve the overall employee manager relationship, and sets clear expectations on both sides--the manager on what is expected from the employee, and the employee on how the manager can better assist them in the role.
What is the difference between a performance review and constructive feedback?
Is there a difference between constructive feedback and a performance review? Absolutely! This is an important distinction for all managers to note. At a high level, when we discuss feedback, we are referring to frequent, lightweight constructive feedback. This is much different than performance reviews, which are formal and much heavier.
Performance reviews are formal:
Reviews are a formal appraisal of the employee’s work and overall performance. They are infrequent and typically take place once or twice a year. Because they are an official review, this is also the time where employees may bring up requests for promotions, bonuses, compensation increases, and other “heavy” subject matter. Similarly, managers can anticipate addressing those items.
Constructive feedback is informal:
Feedback is informal and more casual in nature. It takes place on an ongoing basis and is meant to be real-time bits of information that will help the recipient perform a job or task better.
Developing a habit of giving regular feedback can help set both parties up for a more productive performance review. The cycle of touching base more frequently removes the surprise factor and will give the employee a better sense of how they are doing. Additionally, it gives them the opportunity to course-correct and improve their performance prior to an official review.
How to give constructive feedback in 8 steps
Anyone can offer critiques and criticisms and call it feedback. It is easy to complain or point out something that is not to our liking. The biggest thing to emphasize when it comes to giving feedback is the goal and intention behind it. Constructive feedback should help facilitate a better process or workflow, while reinforcing personal development. For example, when a team member executes a project flawlessly, you should reinforce that as model behavior. Here is a framework to follow to help ensure that feedback given has the desired result:
Step 1: Identify the specific area for feedback
Before delivering feedback, identify the issue, success or area for improvement that you would like to address. This will help you prepare specific examples, and keep the interaction objective. For example, if you are looking to guide a new sales representative to hitting quota, it is important to think about where the area for improvement is. The more specific, the better. Instead of discussing their entire sales flow, it would be better to focus on the deal stage where you see opportunities falling off.
Step 2: State the purpose and share the goal
During the conversation (or video or digital note if using feedback in WorkPatterns), start by stating the purpose of feedback and the positive outcome you are seeking. This offers context and primes the recipient to hear what the insight you have to offer as opposed to feeling criticized out of the blue. It also highlights the mutually beneficial goal and ensures alignment.
Step 3: Describe specifically what you have observed
Set the stage and objectively highlight the observation you made. Do not be vague. Give concrete, specific examples so the person receiving feedback has a direct reference point. An example of how detailed to be might sound like: “I noticed when you were on the phone with John Doe this morning, there was a lot of hesitation in your voice when you explained why our company doesn’t offer discounts.”
Step 4: Describe your reaction to the observation
While it might seem obvious or redundant, it is important to share your personal reaction. Oftentimes, the person who needs the feedback may not realize the “why” behind your feedback. Offering insight will further reassure them that it is not personal and you are there to help. Continuing the above example, this might sound like: “When I heard your hesitation, my reaction was that you sound uncertain. Putting myself in John Doe’s shoes, it would be difficult for me to buy from someone that did not exude confidence.”
Step 5: Give the person a chance to respond
As much as we try to be objective, there are always two sides to every story. Sometimes, observing a situation as a third party could end up in misinterpretation. This is why it is important to encourage the person to respond to your initial observation. That’s why we encourage feedback to be exchanged asynchronously in WorkPatterns, it gives the recipient a chance to digest your feedback and consider your point of view. This often leads to better follow up conversations. They may bring up missing details that change your feedback altogether! If not, this also gives you a good sense of how they are feeling and allows you to address any of their concerns, before moving on.
📚 Learn more about asynchronous communication in the workplace.
Step 6: Offer specific suggestions
Once again, the difference between criticism and constructive feedback is whether it results in a better outcome. After sharing the area of improvement, giving specific suggestions on how to improve, will empower the individual to act upon it and course-correct immediately. This means that instead of saying: “Try not sounding so hesitant next time!”, you might want to say something like: “It is better to say ‘I’m actually not sure, but I’ll find out’ with confidence than to power through the conversation hesitantly.”
Step 7: Summarize and set a time for follow up
Recap the conversation and set up a time to check-in. This gives a future time frame where you can check in. In WorkPatterns, we encourage quick asynchronous feedback on a bi-weekly cadence. If the suggestions didn’t work, it will also give you a chance to receive feedback and iterate on your tips. Additionally, it will incentivize the person more to implement your feedback if they know you are going to follow up on that specific area.
Step 8: Reiterate your support and gratitude
When ending the conversation or wrapping up the meeting, make sure to express your support and gratitude. Constructive feedback is all about making sure the recipient is empowered to take action and improve. By sharing your appreciation, it prevents the feedback from being a negative encounter and reminds the employee that you are there to support them.
Constructive feedback best practices
Now that we’ve emphasized the impact and significance of constructive feedback, how can you ensure that you are hitting the ball out of the park each time when giving feedback? While every company, team, and employee-manager relationship will be different, there are high level best practices that can be used in nearly all situations:
Adopt a mindset of continuous feedback. Giving feedback frequently will improve the quality of your feedback and condition the recipients to receiving feedback. Open communication builds the manager/employee relationship.
📚 Learn more about building a culture of continuous feedback with WorkPatterns.
Our recommendation is quick feedback on a bi-weekly cadence. A simple module with ‘I like that you…’ ‘I wish that you…’ only takes a few minutes to submit.
💡 Put yourself in a ‘mentor’ ‘coach’ state of mind when you frame feedback. The point of constructive feedback is to help your colleague, employee, or manager perform their best and grow as an individual.
💡 Focus on observation rather than interference. A common mistake is wanting to take over and dictate how something should be done--this is interference. Instead, it’s important to point out observations, which will allow the person to grow.
💡 Focus on issues and actions, not the person. Being objective means speaking to a specific behavior or problem, and not about the individual. This will prevent you from unknowingly being judgemental or accusatory, which moves the feedback into unhelpful, destructive territory.
💡 Balance positive and negative feedback. Constructive feedback isn’t all critical. Sometimes positive feedback is just as productive when it comes to reiterating how something should be done. When you note behavior that you want to continue, expressing positive feedback will make it clear to the individual not to change a particular action.
💡 Be aware of feedback overload. Moderation is key! Feedback fatigue will happen if you are giving too much feedback. It’s important to give the person time to implement feedback on a rolling basis, otherwise they can be overwhelmed. When there is too much feedback, it can be hard to keep track and can spiral into a negative cycle. The last thing you want is for someone to feel micromanaged.
Constructive feedback examples
A large part of quality, constructive feedback is in the delivery and the tone. In other words, emotional intelligence and strong communication play large parts in how effective the feedback is. That line is easier to blur than you might imagine. Here are examples of constructive and destructive feedback in various working relationships:
Constructive feedback example from a manager to an employee
Let’s imagine that the employee has been showing up late frequently when they are usually on time.
Constructive feedback example
“First, I want to make sure everything is okay. You have a strong track record of being on time, but lately you’ve been showing up late nearly everyday. This negatively impacts the team morale. What do you think? Is there anything I can do to help make that happen?”
Destructive feedback example
“You can’t keep showing up late. I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t care what your excuse is. If you don’t want this job, there are plenty of people who would love to work here.”
Constructive feedback example from an employee to your manager
Let’s imagine that the manager has been sending emails late at night and on weekends, with requests.
Constructive feedback example
“I noticed that we received several emails last weekend and close to midnight this week. I feel confused because it is unclear if the ask is extremely urgent or if that’s just when you have time to catch up on email. Do you think you could put ‘Urgent’ in the subject line if it is or clarify timeline expectations in the email body?”
Destructive feedback example
“You’ve been sending a lot of late night and weekend requests through email. I’d like to limit email to working hours.”
Constructive feedback example for peers
Let’s imagine that the new hire made a simple mistake on their first project.
Constructive feedback example
“I noticed that this was missed on the project. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s important to pay attention to these details so we can avoid mistakes. Why don’t you let me review the next few projects until you are more familiar with the workflow.”
Destructive feedback example
“Your last project had several errors, next time I will do it myself.”
Constructive feedback - practice makes perfect
Giving constructive feedback is a soft skill that takes time. In addition to leveraging this guide, the best way to improve your feedback skills as a manager is to give feedback consistently and fairly regularly. Open communication accelerates employee development, helps teams achieve goals and strengthens the manager-employee relationship. Try adopting WorkPatterns to help facilitate continuous feedback in the workplace.