Leader giving constructive feedback to a colleague

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

Revised: November 17, 2023

What is constructive feedback? If you're a working adult, you've likely been on the receiving end of this valuable vocational tool. If you're already employed in a management position, you may have been responsible for providing it. Generally, constructive feedback is designed to redirect unwanted behavior into more acceptable behavior for the company. It may also relate to meeting production or customer acquisition goals, addressing workplace behavior and performance, or addressing employee dress or attitude.
There's no limitation to applying constructive criticism in the workplace. However, to be effective and problem-solving, it must be dispensed professionally and in a way intended to be helpful instead of discouraging.

Giving Constructive Feedback

As someone in a managerial role, you must understand the complexities of constructive feedback. To provide constructive feedback, you must convey it in an educational way. It must call out unacceptable practices in a way that's neither rude nor arrogant and must be presented so your employee doesn't feel belittled or abused.

For some managers, the process comes naturally. These bosses have a gift for communicating with others, and we've all encountered them. They can give the harshest reprimands and make them sound like compliments. They're adept at getting their point across but delivering it in such a way that it causes no hard feelings. These bosses have mastered the art of giving feedback constructively. For others, this ability must be practiced and learned. Understanding your leadership style can help improve your communication with peers. Otherwise, constructive feedback simply becomes criticism.

Are you comfortable sitting down with team members to give actionable advice? If not, don't despair. There are a million other managers out there who share your discomfort. What's important is to keep things on a positive note and to present your information in a way that's not accusing. Earning a degree in leadership or management can help you overcome this hurdle by teaching you key elements in employee interactions.

Establish Trust

Establishing the trust of your team members requires more than simply saying "trust me." In reality, it's an ongoing, day-to-day process of being trustworthy. Prove to employees that you're available to listen when they come to you with a problem, and be prompt in taking action. Be fair and consistent in managing your crew, and above all, be discreet. Be mindful of your language as you interact with your team, and be aware of your body language. If you make a mistake, own it. After all, nobody is perfect, not a department manager or even a corporate vice president.

Balance the Positive and the Negative

Even the most challenging employee has things they do well. For instance, maybe someone late to work three days out of the week has never missed a project deadline. Or perhaps your grumpiest employee is also a software genius capable of troubleshooting any problem. Though you may still be required to address their shortcomings, make sure also to call out those times they've gone above and beyond for the team. 

Balancing negative feedback with positive feedback is one way to soften the blow when asking someone to address a bad habit. As you suggest areas for improvement, praise them for the things they do well. Approaching the topic in this way helps to encourage a growth mindset, which is a valuable asset for any employee and the company for which they work.

Observe, Don't Interpret

It's easy to draw conclusions based on what you see and hear but resist the temptation. Take people at face value, and learn to listen to what they're saying instead of what they may be thinking. Try to see where they're coming from and respect their perspective. Keep their remarks in context, and present your observations as just that -- objective observations. If you learn how to approach team members objectively, you'll be more likely to have a positive outcome.

Be Specific

It's also important to avoid being vague when giving actionable advice. Clear direction is vital because unclear or confusing direction is a considerable source of workplace conflict. Make sure your team member knows exactly what you expect in terms of improvement. The SBI method is ideal for this type of situation.

SBI is an acronym for Situation, Behavior, and Impact. Using this method, you would promptly address the situation with the employee, describe the behavior you've observed, and clarify the impact the behavior has on you, on others, or the workplace. The SBI method was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership and is research-driven and proven effective.

Talk Face-to-Face

Personal interaction is the most effective way to give constructive feedback, meaning sitting down with your employees is necessary. Even if your conference must be held remotely, you must still address your team directly. Meeting face-to-face not only starves the workplace rumor mill but also lets your employees know they're important. It gives them a voice and allows them to present their side of the situation. Face-to-face interactions help to improve morale, and they allow you to dole out constructive criticism in a gentle yet effective way.

Don't Make it Personal

Staying objective is a part of regulating your emotions. Try to separate the employees from their actions and resist the urge to pigeonhole employees as "good" or "bad." Everyone has bad days. Everyone interprets rules differently and comes from their unique background and experience. 

When you sit down with someone to offer feedback, consider these factors. Refrain from assuming they're intentionally disobeying the rules or underperforming. Instead, talk with them to determine the reasoning behind their recent actions. You may be surprised to learn the whole situation stems from a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding. Be respectful, and never let the situation disintegrate into a personal attack on values or performance.

Provide Feedback Consistently

Consistency is essential, too. So, be sure to reinforce your words with actions. Address your team frequently, integrating feedback into your meetings. Stress the importance of continued improvement for all and follow up on problems promptly. Make sure expectations are clear, and be transparent in your efforts at improvement.

Be Timely

While addressing problems when you see them is good, there may be better times or places to do so. For instance, calling out mistakes in front of other employees is not a good way to give constructive criticism. However, addressing issues as soon as possible is important so that mistakes aren't repeated. In this situation, it may be best to have your team member in for a private discussion later in the day. You might also decide to hold a team meeting that addresses the issue without naming names or making any one employee feel singled out.

How to Give Feedback to Peers

What if you're a team member who must offer feedback to a coworker? Outside the manager-to-employee relationship, learning how to give feedback to peers can be incredibly challenging. You may not feel you have the right to call out another employee, and they may share your opinion. However, if you have your eye on a leadership role, there may be times when you have to overcome that feeling of awkwardness to help someone else. 

Going right to a manager may be construed as tattling, which can cause hostility and hurt feelings. Therefore, it's usually best to address the person directly. Present your feedback in the manner of offering help and guidance. Be honest, respectful, and professional in your advice, and allow your coworkers to explain why they're doing something differently.


Two male coworkers having a constructive conversation

Constructive Feedback in Leadership and Management

From a leadership perspective, there's more to feedback than just helping correct employee behavior. By offering constructive criticism through performance reviews and team meetings, you're helping your team members develop leadership skills by leading by example. These are all parts of a solid career development program, which many employees value even over salary. The opportunity to learn new skills and take on more responsibilities at work ranks high on the list of employee satisfaction requirements. It's an excellent way to foster employee loyalty and to attract new, quality talent to your organization or department.

Connecting Growth With Education

While on-the-job training and experience in leadership and management are sound methods of helping you develop your own skills, there's no replacement for education and training. At Champlain College Online, we offer the Master of Science in Organization Development & Human Relations with Leadership to help you develop the skills necessary to become an effective leader. Classes are completed entirely online, allowing adult learners and nontraditional students to balance work and life responsibilities with their academic aspirations.

We also offer an Undergraduate Certificate in Management Foundations that can help you foster the skills necessary to take on leadership roles within any industry. Either program is a valuable tool for those already employed in management positions or for those who wish to move up into these roles.

Empower Professional Relationships

What is constructive feedback and how does it make you a better leader? In a nutshell, it's having the skills and knowledge to help others refine their performance at work. It helps create a safe, productive work environment where team members are highly satisfied and enjoy reporting for work each day. It's instrumental in helping a company meet goals in finance and production, and it's a tool leaders can use to shape and mold their staff members into becoming a dream team. You can access these skills at Champlain College Online by enrolling in one of our flexible and engaging degree programs today.

For more information, we invite you to contact us online or call us at 802-357-5188. One of our trusted and knowledgeable admission counselors is waiting to take your call and answer any questions you have regarding enrollment, financial aid, or the transfer of credits.

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