Someone giving contrsuctive feedback to another person in an office setting.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People

Empowering people is possible with constructive feedback. Cringe is the first reaction of my leadership training participants and executive coaching clients to the notion of feedback. Often the response is “I’m not good at those difficult conversations.” Amazing how feedback is associated with discomfort and difficulty. It’s almost always assumed to be negative, a ‘big’ conversation, and telling someone something that they are doing wrong.

What is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that grows an individual either by reinforcing something positive they are doing or by pointing out areas of improvement. Historically it was negative feedback, something they did wrong. Now constructive or developmental feedback reinforces good behaviours or points out behavioural changes a person can make to be more effective, what they could do differently and how to do it differently.

Key Benefits of Effective Feedback

The benefits of giving feedback are almost too obvious to state – and they are the same whether the feedback is positive or negative/constructive.

  1. Your team feels valued and empowered because overall you give noticeably more positive feedback than negative/constructive (research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every one piece of negative feedback given).
  2. Your co-workers learn what you expect and what success looks like because you point out the positives and illustrate what better looks like when you point out an improvement.
  3. You create a feedback culture in the organization thereby encouraging everyone to contribute to good/better performance.
  4. Colleagues learn to improve ineffective actions or feel you reinforce their existing positive behaviour thereby positively impacting the business.
  5. Company performance improves (see research referenced in #1 above).
  6. You are perceived as observant, engaged and a people-person (by your team and potentially peers and superiors) because you observe and treat your colleagues as individuals.
  7. Expressing concerns openly and honestly when they arise prevents bottling up of resentment and frustration which, if unsaid, could lead to stress, illness, an explosive tirade or damaged relationships

Steps to Giving Effective Feedback

There is a simple four-step model that many people recommend, and I will follow suit. It’s called the C.O.I.N. model¹ by Anna Carroll and can be used for giving both positive and negative/constructive feedback. It’s so simple, so please keep it simple, this is a great case of less words are more effective.

C is for context or circumstances, the when and where of the situation.
O is for what was observed, the action or behaviour exhibited.
I is for the impact it had, on you, the team, another individual, or the business.
N is for next steps, what you expect or encourage the recipient to do next with the feedback.

Examples of Good & Bad Constructive Feedback

Good: When I was walking around this afternoon (Context), I saw you leaning over your sales manager advising him that he could have been more structured when answering the customer’s questions in the customer meeting earlier (Observation). The impact on him could have been embarrassment and intimidation. And because you are a manager, others in the open-plan office might have felt uncomfortable and that you were being disrespectful (Impact). In the future please deliver constructive feedback eye-to-eye and ideally in your office. It’s better be on ‘the same level’ and to punish in private and praise in public (Next step). How would you feel after hearing this?

Good: In today’s project review meeting, I noticed when Marc expressed his concern over the launch timing you paused, nodded your head, asked a couple of open-ended questions and asked, “this sounds important to you, can we set up some separate time to discuss it?” When you listen to people, ask clarifying questions, acknowledge someone, even if junior to you – Marc feels more valued, the idea of raising concerns is encouraged thereby mitigating risks, and others in the meeting respect you even more. Keep up the good work. Thanks for role-modelling those skills to the attendees.

Bad: You hit your sales target last month which is great, well done, but you failed to get a new client meeting. Work on getting new client meetings. How would you feel hearing this?

Tips to Giving Effective Feedback

How you give the feedback is so important for the feedback to be perceived as genuine and constructive and for it to be received positively. You know what it feels like if someone gives you a beautifully wrapped, timely, perfect-for-your birthday present versus someone just tossing you a creased card a day late that they bought at the corner shop.

  • Give the feedback as close to the action/behaviour observed as possible.
  • Give positive and constructive feedback daily, don’t wait for performance reviews or “extreme situations that require attention”.
  • Give positive feedback in public if appropriate and the recipient likes that attention (or at least can tolerate the attention).
  • Give constructive feedback in private to avoid being perceived as critical or causing embarrassment or shame (there’s a common expression: praise in public, punish in private).
  • Speak slowly and clearly, being as specific as possible. Pause slightly after saying the observation and impact and then stop talking after stating the next step.
  • Use the minimum number of words possible. More detracts from the clarity of the message.
  • Check for comprehension, that they understand what you said. Ask them “what clarification can I provide?” or “what would you like me to repeat to ensure I’ve been clear?” or “what’s your understanding of what I said?”
  • Look them in the eye (softly, not laser-like) and smile (just look pleasant, not a creepy smiley-face).
  • Be patient with yourself and the recipient.
  • Have the intention of being of service to that person, of giving them a gift, of wanting them to grow and develop. Dare I say, have it come from your heart rather than just your head.
  • If it is difficult feedback, give the person some time and space to digest it. Say “I sense you might need time to process/digest/think about what I said. Let’s meet tomorrow to talk about it again.”
  • Remember, just as you are free to give feedback, so the person to whom you are giving it is free to listen (or not), adopt, adapt or reject what you have said.

What feedback have you received that would be beneficial to work through?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could be better at giving feedback or actioning feedback you’ve received.

¹ COIN Model Executive coach and author Anna Carroll, MSSW “The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success. 2003