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How to give constructive feedback without ruining relationships

by Yellow

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Constructive feedback about our work can encourage and motivate us to do better. However, sometimes, being on the receiving end of criticism can also be demoralising and leave us feeling unappreciated. 

When it comes to the way people take criticism, several factors come into play. From the amount of effort put into the task being scrutinised, to the timing of the conversation and the attitude of the person dishing out the advice. The bottom line is that the whole point of constructive feedback should be - growth. 

To achieve this you need to ensure that feedback is being taken in and not blocked out by negative emotions. So if you want to get through to someone and genuinely help them improve at what they are doing, here are various things to keep in mind. 


Focus on the situation 

One thing you want to avoid is making people feel “bad” at their job. So focus on the situation and not the person.

For example, rather than saying: “Your presentation was cluttered and boring” you could say something on the lines of: “I think your message would have been stronger had you used less graphs and shared more relatable examples”. Remember that you want your feedback to be constructive. 

Bonus tip: Offer specific solutions. It’s useless pointing out what went wrong if you don’t have an answer. So make sure you have clear advice that leads to concrete improvement.


Be specific 

If you have something to say, make sure it comes across clearly. There’s nothing worse than vague feedback that leaves people at the office wondering where they went wrong. Or worse, who messed up. Avoid blanket statements that put all employees in one basket.

Instead, hold one-on-one conversations with the person who needs the feedback and make sure that the area of improvement is clear. Avoid saying vague things like: “I think there’s room for improvement” and instead say: “ I think your report is good but it could be better if you add more visuals and concrete examples.” 


Put it in a feedback sandwich

One thing people hate about their work being criticised, is the fact that their successes are never praised. Enter: the feedback sandwich. Take the opportunity to say what needs to be said, sandwiched between positive statements.

So your conversation could sound like: “The client really loved your ideas (positive). You could improve on the way you present your ideas to make them come through stronger (negative). Once you gain those skills, you’ll be able to present the ideas yourself (positive).”


Be time sensitive

If you need to share criticism, timing is important. Don’t just summon someone to your office a few minutes before an important client meeting. This could shatter their confidence and shift their focus. Find a slot when you both have time to dedicate to the conversation without having to rush off to a meeting. 


Use positive words 

Your choice of words will frame how your feedback is received. Be aware of your tone of voice and keep your language positive. Instead of saying: “You never contribute to our meetings” say: “I’d love to hear your views during meetings.”

It also helps to use “I feel” statements rather than finger-pointing “you” statements. There’s a difference between “you need to improve your presentation skills” and “I feel you could do with some support with your presentation skills”.


Ensure the feedback is needed

Always ask yourself if the feedback you plan on giving is actuality necessary. Does the person need to be corrected? Is this a matter of someone not doing things your way? If so, are you sure that the different method needs correcting? The ultimate question is: will having this conversation lead to the person’s growth and improvement? 

Bonus tip: Listen. Be aware that there might be something you’re not seeing. Was the shortcoming a result of lack of skill, time or confidence? When you give your feedback make sure you give the person the chance to reply. Understanding their thought process will allow you to offer better guidance.

Offering sound constructive advice is one way of keeping employees motivated. Help them take their skills to the next level by granting them access to training programmes you will find listed on Yellow.

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