Feedback is a staple of life. We give feedback on the food we like, we leave reviews for nearly every type of business we go to, and we can even leave feedback on the cleanliness of public restrooms. It’s everywhere.
If there’s somewhere that feedback is not only present, it’s crucial, it’s the workplace.
It’s easy to tell your teammate they’re doing a great job on a project, but sharing your thoughts can be tricker when you’re giving constructive feedback. Still, it’s important to incorporate constructive criticism into performance management strategy given how beneficial it is to growth and development.
Let’s dive into constructive feedback — what it is, why it matters, how to give and receive feedback, and how it can propel you forward.
What Is Constructive Feedback?
Feedback is the process of evaluating someone’s performance. Constructive feedback is giving feedback that’s designed to help someone develop.
Too often we think of constructive feedback as “mean” or “harsh”, but it’s really any type of critique that’s oriented toward improvement and growth. It nurtures self-awareness, promotes learning, enhances skills and performance, and cultivates a supportive, solution-oriented environment for continuous improvement, trust, and motivation.
Why Is Constructive Feedback Important?
That being said, constructive feedback isn’t always easy to give. Sometimes it does require providing evaluation that will be uncomfortable or negative. It’s pretty common to be uncomfortable giving any kind of negative feedback. A survey from 2018 found that 44% of managers find it stressful to give negative feedback, and 21% of managers actually avoid giving any kind of negative feedback. This is probably because it can be tough to do, but understanding why constructive feedback is so important can help managers overcome their anxieties.
One major benefit of constructive feedback is that it facilitates an atmosphere of growth and shows your employees that you care about their development. Remember, constructive feedback is growth-oriented, so having more of it in your workplace helps facilitate development. (Which, in turn, can reduce burnout.)
Constructive feedback really does improve individual performance, which makes sense: When your team members better understand how they can better contribute to the big picture and do better in their individual roles, they can perform better.
When you sit down with a team member, you’re inviting them to spend time reflecting on their own performance. That process itself is helpful, as reflecting on your work while on the job improves performance. Taking the time to provide constructive feedback is a great way to create an environment of self-reflection that improves team performance.
Trust is pretty important in a work environment. About 96% of engaged employees trust their leaders, while only 46% of disengaged employees do. Constructive feedback builds trust when done correctly, a key value it offers your workplace. While you may need to start slowly and carefully in low trust environments, you can use constructive feedback as a way to begin building trust.
Disengagement is a problem at many workplaces. The U.S. has a whopping 1.8-1 disengaged to engaged employee ratio in 2023, and disengagement is estimated to cost the country’s economy $450 billion annually. Constructive criticism can help fight disengagement at your workplace. Two-sided constructive feedback fosters a company culture that encourages engagement by helping employees to execute in their work at a higher level.
Workplace conflict often arises from little problems escalating into something big. Constructive feedback helps stop conflict in its tracks because it enables the team to address issues before they escalate. In addition, the more your staff can give constructive feedback, the more comfortable they get with having difficult conversations. This gives them the tools they need to problem solve and reduce conflict earlier on.
When you give constructive feedback, you’re shifting ownership of professional development. You’re giving your team more direction. By doing this, you’re empowering your team as individuals to take ownership of their trajectory and growth.
How to Give Effective Feedback
Constructive feedback is pretty great, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to give. Like we mentioned earlier, if you struggle with giving any kind of constructive feedback, you’re not alone. So many people do. Luckily, we’re going to provide you with strategies to give effective feedback that will empower you to give kind critiques with confidence.
Remember: you are not the only one who’s nervous about constructive feedback. Most likely, the team member you’re evaluating is just as nervous as you are—if not more so. Empathy goes a long way here. Take some time to understand where your team member is coming from and why they may have performed the way they did. Plus, empathy will help your message resonate more powerfully, allowing your feedback to be more effective.
Spending time preparing to give feedback will help you do so more effectively and avoid rushing through. Before giving feedback, take some time and think through what feedback you want to give your team member and what might be the best approach delivering that message. Maybe you know that this employee is having a hard time with work right now, so you plan to take a warm approach with lots of understanding. Or perhaps you know this employee hasn’t been receptive in the past, so you need to be very clear. Either way, knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it will help you do that effectively.
Speak in Specifics
Specifics are always a good idea—whether it’s when complimenting a team member or giving constructive criticism. Specifics help the person you’re talking to understand exactly what you mean, and it removes space for misunderstanding. Ways to stay specific include:
- Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush and say exactly what you are intending to say (while ensuring you do so with the right tone)
- Pick a specific behavior. Instead of saying, “There are some problems,” pick a specific behavior like arriving late, turning in projects after deadlines, or disengaging at work.
- Explain the impact of the behavior. Sometimes your team members might not know how they’re affecting the rest of the team or the workflow. Explaining exactly what’s happening because of their work performance can help them see why it matters to grow and improve.
Make it Actionable
There’s not much someone can do with, “Just try to do better.” That’s vague and leaves no clear expectation for action. Instead, you want to make sure that the feedback you’re giving is actionable. Give your teammate something specific to do that will help them grow and improve their performance. It might be, “Try coming 10 minutes earlier to work,” or it might be, “Spend half an hour of time each day learning more about this software program, so you’re prepared to lead out on it.” However it looks, make your feedback something someone can act on.
Give Feedback Openly and Regularly
Your employees want constructive feedback—about 72% of employees under 30 want weekly feedback. So even if you’re nervous about giving regular input, remember that your team probably wants it, and they want it often. Regular feedback can help improve performance and improve communication and your team can determine what “regular” means. Maybe it’s once a month, twice a month, or once a week.
Keep it Goal-Oriented
Performance management is an ongoing process that includes setting goals with your employees. Performance reviews are a great time to set these benchmarks, and regular reviews give you a chance to keep tabs on progress. They also help managers give context to your constructive feedback, so employees understand why changes would help their individual and organizational performance. This can help keep the conversation focused on work output, making it feel less personal.
How to Receive Feedback
Here’s a fun reality: no matter who you are, what level you’re at, or your title, you get to receive constructive feedback. Great news, right? It should be. The single best way to improve as a leader is to receive feedback. That being said, it’s definitely not always easy to hear feedback, so here are a few tips to help you improve being on the receiving end.
Separate Feedback From Emotions
It’s easy to take feedback personally and let your emotions get in the way of hearing what’s actually being said. Remember that you’re receiving these observations because everyone needs them from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’re “bad” at your job. Instead, try to start with your mindset and separate your emotions from the feedback you’re receiving. Try to focus on the feedback itself and how it’s aimed to help you grow. To help keep your focus on the feedback, remember to say thanks to your reviewer.
Relax. Everybody gets feedback, and feedback is awesome. So do your best to avoid becoming defensive. Try not to cross your arms, keep your shoulders relaxed, and keep a smile on your face when you can. Appreciate the opportunity to develop. Even if you don’t feel overjoyed about getting feedback, staying open to it can help you get there in time.
Getting feedback is a great opportunity to push yourself and grow. Unfortunately, if you’re not actually listening, you’re not going to get all the benefits. So an important part of receiving feedback is really hearing what you’re being told. A useful way to check if you are actively listening is to be prepared to restate what you’ve heard from your reviewer. Restating can help avoid misunderstandings, and it’ll help you stay focused on what you’re hearing.
Set Professional Goals
When you’re the reviewer, you know how it’s important to set professional goals with your team. Keep that same principle in mind when you’re the one receiving feedback. Even if you’re not asked to set goals, you can set them on your own. Constructive feedback is to help you develop, and goals can keep that momentum going. Plus, having goals helps you make feedback a discussion since you have specific areas you want feedback on.
Questions help you better understand the feedback. So come prepared with a few inquiries that help you better understand the feedback you’re receiving. These could include:
- What is something I can do daily to improve my performance?
- What patterns have you noticed with my performance?
- Are there any consistent areas that are weak?
Seek Different Perspectives
If no one’s told you before, we’re here to tell you the good news: you can and should receive feedback from multiple sources. If your team doesn’t do 360 reviews, you may need to seek that out yourself, but it’s a valuable exercise. Ask the people you lead, your managers, your leaders. They all have different perspectives on how you’re performing, and each of those perspectives is crucial to developing.
Be Open Minded
We get it. It’s hard to hear something you don’t want to hear. You might even be tempted to jump to the conclusion that the reviewer is wrong or doesn’t understand or is missing something. While that’s sometimes true, it’s usually more helpful to slow down and be open minded. Hear them out, ask clarifying questions,, and be ready to accept that feedback to move forward.
Ask for Support
Luckily, when you get feedback and create a plan to grow, you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. When you find people to support you and hold you accountable for growing, you’re more likely to improve your performance. So get your network together and make sure you’re all helping each other move forward.
Feedback should be a continuing conversation. Follow up and ask for more evaluations as you implement their input. This helps you garner more feedback and shows that you’re receptive to change, feeding a cycle of positive growth.
Complete an Employee Review
When you have the opportunity to get an official formal employee review, jump on that opportunity. These are great places to get feedback and really kickstart your development journey.
How Constructive Feedback Leads to Success
When you’re giving constructive feedback and receiving it, you’ve got a great formula for success. Here are a few ways that constructive feedback can help lead you toward success:
- Personal and professional growth. Not only can this process help you improve professionally, as we’ve discussed, but learning how to receive and give feedback will also help you grow personally. After all, constructive criticism is not limited to the office, so these skills are applicable in every area of your life.
- Enhanced self awareness. As you receive and give feedback, you have the opportunity to reflect on yourself, and that’s going to help you become more and more aware of yourself and your growth.
- Improved performance and results. Feedback gives you results and improved performance on all levels, from entry level employees to the highest level leaders.
- Strengthened communication and collaboration. When you’re giving and receiving feedback, you’re communicating and collaborating toward growth. Creating that environment of feedback helps your team develop those skills.
- Continuous learning. When you’re creating a culture of feedback, you’re helping your team and yourself continually improve and continue learning.
Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Overall, constructive feedback is pretty awesome. It’s a great way to help push yourself and your team. While it’s not easy to give or receive feedback, it’s worth it in the long run. These tips for giving feedback and receiving constructive feedback are a great way to get started.
Feedback is only piece of the puzzle for helping your team grow. You can also advance their personal development through employee wellness programs, which comes full circle. Employees with healthy habits, like good nutrition and exercise, have higher job performance.
To learn more about how to support an employee's mental and physical wellbeing, talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist today.
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.