Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2017 issue

Message Matters: Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback

By Lisa Negstad

Tips for giving constructive feedback.Let’s face it. No one really loves getting feedback, even when they request it. Yet whenever I ask supervisory-training participants about the one thing their supervisor did to support them, “giving honest feedback” always emerges at the top of the list.

There is also no shortage of information about delivering feedback. This is a sure sign that no one finds it easy. Even if we’re OK wading into conflict, we still don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. This is an admirable trait! That said, for true productivity and effectiveness in the workplace, we need to be able to have honest conversations with our co-workers, and this includes giving constructive feedback. Here are a few tips for giving constructive feedback.

Make it a habit to request feedback.We need to have honest conversations with our co-workers. If you’re willing to receive feedback, then it makes it easier for others to accept your constructive input. So, ask for feedback regularly— and try not to take it personally.

For me, it takes constant practice to avoid internalizing feedback and making it about my self-worth. But when I’m successful, I’m amazed at the rich learning and growth that is available. It doesn’t mean I have to accept everyone’s opinion. But I’ve learned that when I’m open to ongoing advice and guidance, it helps me to improve.

Practice ahead of time. Spending time crafting your message and trying it out loud can be helpful in overcoming any hesitancy in starting the feedback conversation. Rehearse some of the key phrases you want to use. I’m not saying you should memorize a script and then deliver it, but preparing out loud can help mitigate some initial nervousness. It will help you feel more comfortable in the conversation.

Avoid doing it in the heat of the moment. Bring your self-awareness to your own emotions. Check to make sure you’re not delivering feedback while you’re annoyed or angry. Self-manage your emotions and wait to hold the conversation when you’re more calm and grounded.

Be specific when giving feedback. The two most important components of any feedback conversation are describing the observable behavior and explaining the impact.

First, it’s important to describe what isn’t working in terms of facts and behaviors that you can see. Avoid leaping to conclusions about what’s causing those behaviors. Second, it’s important to describe the impact of the person’s behavior on you, their work, or the team.

Here’s an example: “When you roll your eyes and sigh deeply during team meetings [observable behavior], it really brings the team energy down [impact] and gives the impression you don’t care about the work [impact].”

Use “I” statements. Communications professionals (and psychologists) recommend “I” statements for delivering feedback. By starting the conversation with an “I” statement rather than a “You” statement (e.g., “I feel confused when…”, not “You confuse me when you …”), you can mitigate the potential for a defensive response.

It also indicates that you share in the responsibility and don’t blame the other person alone for what is not working. It may feel hokey to use “I” statements, but they work! (Quick note: Beware of the fake “I” statement. For example, “I feel that you …” is fake because it couches blame. To test that you are truly using an “I” statement make sure there is an adjective after the “I feel …”: frustrated, unsure, nervous, uneasy, etc.)

Here’s the earlier example, converted to an “I” statement: “I feel dismayed when you sigh and roll your eyes in team meetings. It brings the team energy down and gives the impression you don’t care about the work.”

Finally, to avoid common feedback mistakes, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t wait too long.
  • Don’t sugarcoat.
  • Be sure to hold the conversation in a private location.
  • Allow enough time.
  • Inquire about and listen to the other person’s perspective.
  • If the conversation seems to affect the other person negatively, check back in with them later. Re-emphasize that your intent was not to criticize.

Lisa Negstad is a nonprofit strategist, leadership coach, and organizational-development advisor. Learn more at www.negstadconsulting.com.

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