The best feedback provides something people can build on — that’s why they call it constructive criticism. But if it’s delivered in an offensive manner, your words won’t do any good.

Let’s face it; it’s easy to get angry and defensive when we hear negative feedback from employers and colleagues. The important thing is to be a long-term thinker about the problem and look for ways to build together for the future:

The Difference Between “Destructive” Criticism and Positive Suggestions

Feedback is either instructive, or destructive. Criticism can all too easily slip into insults and degradation. If you put your colleague down, it will leave a bad taste for when the next task comes around. You need to make things a little less personal and focus on actions, or the project itself, not the person involved. Offer specific, positive suggestions, focused on future development and improvement. Phrase your words to outline what you want, not just what you disliked.

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Venting your frustrations isn’t likely to improve the situation. It just hurts. If you are buttering your own ego or asserting your dominance by trying to show how much smarter you are, that obviously isn’t a good reason for feedback at all. Positive suggestions focus on adding value, rather than your own feelings or knowledge. It’s problem solving. Before bringing your feedback to your colleague or employee, ask yourself, “How would I react to this kind of feedback? Is this the best way to bring the kind of change I want to see?”

Venting your frustrations isn’t likely to improve the situation. It just hurts. If you are buttering your own ego or asserting your dominance by trying to show how much smarter you are, that obviously isn’t a good reason for feedback at all. Positive suggestions focus on adding value, rather than your own feelings or knowledge. It’s problem solving. Before bringing your feedback to your colleague or employee, ask yourself, “How would I react to this kind of feedback? Is this the best way to bring the kind of change I want to see?”

Don’t Let Your Fears Drive the Conversation

If you go into the discussion anticipating a negative response, that is probably what you are going to get. You need kindness, but don’t simply focus on being likeable. The worst thing you can do is to try to the critical parts of the criticism just because you are afraid to make a few waves.

Everyone is under pressure to deliver and workloads are shared. That requires trust and continual skill development. Don’t wait for the next performance review. Being a leader is a choice, not an executive title. It means continually guiding others and providing boundaries.

If your expectations are always clear and measurable, growth is easy to spot and encourage. The only way to avoid constantly correcting other people’s work is to set them up to succeed first. Be direct and follow-up throughout difficult or new tasks, not just at the end.

Rewarding improvement is also a great way to motivate your team. If you ignore the problem, that’s what you are choosing to reinforce, or you are opening yourself up to their assumptions. Don’t leave them guessing and directionless. If they fail without direction, it’s your fault.

Be Direct: Save the Sandwich For Lunch

The Sandwich Method blankets criticism between compliments and praise. It’s definitely famous, but there are problems with this approach. For one thing, you can’t be sure what the person will really focus on. They might not even believe your praise is genuine and find it condescending.

That hurts your overall working relationship, or it might not really do much of anything at all if the missed actual point buried in your camouflage. This technique is probably more attractive to bosses than employees, and it’s often used because the manager is not comfortable giving negative feedback. It’s based in fear and intentionally softening the leadership role. That isn’t a good choice.

The litmus test for any strategy is to imagine explaining it in a transparent form. What would your reaction be if someone said, “I’ll start with some obvious positive points. Move into what I really need to say. Then, close with something else I don’t find particularly important, just so you won’t be upset.” Does that work for you? Just some food for thought.

Use a Situation, Behavior, and Impact Framework

SBI is an acronym for a feedback model developed by The Center for Creative Leadership. The first step specifically describes the Situation and its context. Then, add any observable Behavior, as objectively as possible, without making personal judgements. Lastly, explain its Impact on you, the team or the organization.

SAID (Situation, Action, Impact, Desired Outcome) is a similar approach that ends the conversation by blocking out more effective future strategies or what you specifically want to see. If we use the same acid test and describe the conversation, it sounds much more direct, “I’ll explain the situation, what I saw that didn’t work, and the consequences. Then, I might give you a few positive suggestions.” There is no guessing about what is really important, but there isn’t anything hurtful or personal either.

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Be Sensitive of Context and Tone

Where you give feedback is as important as how. You don’t want to needlessly embarrass people. If you are in a situation where time really is of the essence, spread your suggestions as evenly as possible, or address the group as a whole, using as much positive language as you can, focusing on what you really want. Be concise, direct and fair, without singling someone out, or wait for a private moment. Just don’t wait too long.

It isn’t easy, but you need to walk a balance with your tone. Basically, you want an assertive and serious tone, without condescension.

At the same time, don’t lose your impact statements or be afraid to apply the right amount of pressure. Everyone is counting on your team, and you trust them to shoulder the load. When you express the outcome you need, offer an advantage to following your advice. Don’t just tell your team where to go and how to get there. Give them a positive reward they can achieve, for example, “If you do a good job with this, I can see your role and influence here expanding over time.” Feedback shouldn’t always be negative.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

― Thomas A. Edison

Every mistake is a learning opportunity. Rewarding innovation and giving your team the freedom to experiment means opening yourself up to less desirable results and sometimes failure. It’s a risk, but the eventual payoff is great with the right support. If you nurture dedication consistently and commitment to mutual growth, achievement will follow. Positive and negative feedback simply sets the stage for those future light bulb moments to happen.

 

 

How do you give feedback to your team?