how to give constructive feedback

How to Give Constructive Feedback Correctly

Giving feedback can be a burden for both: the giver and the receiver. But with no constructive feedback, there can be no improvement. However, it’s more than that. Giving constructive feedback can lead to open and transparent communication between co-workers and can strengthen the positive working culture. 

So, how do you give constructive feedback correctly?

How to start

So what is the best approach to kick off this process? One of our latest wattx insight sessions was essentially revolving around that: How to effectively give feedback, divided into two different outlooks: Boris, Product Manager at wattx, focused on what feedback to give while Aleksandra, Administrative Assistant, explained how to provide it so that people respond well to it. 

From the organizational perspective, it’s important to focus on quantity in giving feedback. It is essential to understand there has to be a balance between too much and too little feedback and the timeframe the feedback is given in. 

Look back

If you want to give real constructive feedback, remember that you have to prepare for it. Saying that, I don’t mean to have some notes ready for the meeting half an hour before it happens. Boris’s recommendation, for instance, is to go through your chat and email history from the last 30 days and to check what might require improvements or praise. Think about whether the outcome could have been better, check if deadlines were met if there have been any misunderstandings or the like. You get the gist.

On top of that, see what kind of goals were set for the last 30 days and if these have been met. Another good idea is to check if there have been any mistakes that could’ve been avoided. Take notes, so during the feedback session, you can show tangible examples of what went wrong. Focus on the timing, see if the tasks were done on time. If not - prepare a straightforward example, so the person will know exactly which situation you are talking about.

Prepare beforehand

One of the most important messages from that insight session is that feedback should not be a surprise for anyone. By saying that, I don’t mean only the feedback session itself but also the things people were required to do. For example, if you criticize somebody for not preparing something or doing it in the wrong way, but have never mentioned expectations before - your feedback is useless. It is very inequitable to expect things from people they did not know they had to do. 

It is better to pick a few points to talk about as opposed to many different ones. So when you prepare to give constructive feedback, think where the person wants to and should grow and focus on that. It is simply impossible to work on improving every aspect of work at once. Progress takes time.

Focus on the good things, too

To make sure we avoid focussing on too many aspects during feedback sessions at wattx, we developed a performance expectation framework, linked to our company values and culture. We split our five values - Ownership, Courage, Humbleness, Impact, and Team Players - into expected behaviors. If we take for example the value ‘Impact’, it can be split into:

  1. creating value for our customers, or
  2. delivering the highest quality of work.

Each of the subcategories has three examples of what the expected behavior could look like. We focus on giving constructive feedback, so the examples are divided into Reactive, Active, and Proactive behavior. By doing so, we avoid negative criticism that can influence the employee's behavior and motivation. After all, you want your employees to feel appreciated and keep the good work going. So while preparing the feedback, remember to think of good things to praise as well. 

Listen carefully

If you have prepared the feedback, the next step is to think about how you are going to communicate it. You may prepare a lot of notes and do that well, but the way you speak or behave can influence the entire process. A good start to communication theory is taking a look into the 4 Sides Model of Communication developed by Friedemann Schulz von Thun, a German psychologist. 

A basic assumption of that theory is that each information we verbally send or receive can be understood on four different levels: the level of fact, the appeal level, the relation as well as the disclosure level. And we have no power over which level will be activated by the receiver when a sentence is said. However, we have power in the way we phrase our words. We can always make sure to use active listening techniques and ask the person to rephrase what we just said. That simple trick can help avoid misunderstandings and make sure you are on the same level with your interlocutor.

Communicate without violence

A good method to use when giving feedback is non-violent communication (NVC), a method developed by Marshall Rosenberg. This technique links to the fact that you should always be very specific when providing feedback. By using the four steps of NVC, you will have to give an example of each action.

The four steps are as follows:

  1. Observe (without judgment) and name the action when and how the person performed/underperformed. 
  2. Express clearly the consequence of that action. Make sure you communicate how it affected the work or the team. 
  3. Express what is needed to change for the future. 
  4. One more time: Be specific and request an explicit behavior. 

To summarize

Neither giving nor receiving feedback is easy. Like any other thing, it takes practice to master it. However, remember that it is always about the situation and specific actions - and it should not be taken on a personal level. Good and constructive feedback can be a very good start to growth and increase of satisfaction from both sides - the employee as well as the employer. And last but not least, it means that you actually care about the improvement of your coworker.