First, let’s talk about semantics. The word criticism implies that you are finding faults and casting judgement on someone. Feedback, on the other hand, is evaluating and passing on information that helps people improve. So we prefer the term constructive feedback over constructive criticism.
Constructive feedback can still be tough to hear and might even be tougher to deliver. Despite how uncomfortable it can be, it is an important step in creating a culture of feedback at your company to fuel performance and success. Going about it the right way can also make it a lot less painful. In fact, it can be a positive experience if executed well!
1. Find the right time
The right time is typically right away. Don’t wait until an employee’s annual review to deliver feedback. Utilize weekly one-on-one time so they can get back on track quickly. While you want to deliver constructive feedback in a timely manner, you don’t want to rush it. Block out enough time on your calendar to discuss the issue at hand. Meet one-on-one to maintain people’s privacy as well.
2. Be direct
The best way to deliver constructive feedback is face-to-face. Even better than a conference room – Get outside for a walking meeting to lighten the mood. Walking side by side is less intimidating and can also invite more open conversation. Try to avoid email, messaging, or any other similar form of communication. Although it is less ideal, opt for a video call if meeting in person is not feasible. Be direct about what will be covered in the meeting to allow employees time to prepare.
3. Be specific
Constructive feedback should consist of specific, actionable insights. People want to learn and continuously improve. They can only do that if they know exactly what it is they need to work on. Speak clearly and concisely to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding. Steer clear of making too many jokes or adding too much “fluff” to compensate for the difficult conversation. It could diminish your point and make the delivery less effective.
4. Focus on actions, not the individual
Sometimes people fear the recipient will take the feedback as a personal attack. Nobody wants to hurt feelings. But not voicing a constructive point in the first place can bring more negative consequences. You would be surprised how receptive most people can be when it comes to feedback – especially when it’s done right. Center the discussion around the work or result rather than the individual person. For example, someone missing a deadline does not necessarily mean they are lazy. Talk about what can be done differently or how you can support them on the next project.
5. Suggest solutions
As a leader, you are like a GPS for your employees. Your job is to not only let them know when they are off course, but also help them reroute when needed. Suggesting concrete solutions can provide a lot of needed guidance. Feedback without direction is just a complaint whereas offering solutions makes it a growth opportunity. If you can relate and have used the advice yourself, give examples of how it has helped you in the past.
6. Engage the recipient in the process
Make your one-on-one meetings and performance reviews a two-way conversation. Empower your employees to reflect inward and give insights about how they view their performance. This can be a unique way to discover new growth opportunities. Plus, it inspires them to take hold of their own career. Additionally, allow employees time to respond to the feedback you provide and let the discussion flow.
7. Remain open to feedback yourself
Great leaders welcome feedback themselves. Open the floor for your employees to offer feedback because there may be areas you can improve in that will also better support them. You can also learn more about yourself and how others perceive you as a leader. An important first step here is fostering trust. Your people will only feel comfortable being honest with you if they trust you and vice versa.
8. Keep the loop going
As alluded to in the first point, feedback should always be flowing to and from your employees. Create a cadence of weekly one-on-ones that will serve as mini checkpoints. Document what is discussed during these meetings so you both have a log to refer to. Having a perpetual feedback loop is crucial when giving and tracking a constructive piece of feedback. Checking in is what lets that individual know they are on the right track with improvements.
There is a lot to consider when giving feedback. One last thing to keep in mind is that every employee is a human being. They have feelings and fears just like you do. Deliver constructive feedback with empathy and kindness. If you truly have the employee’s best interest in mind, that will shine through in your conversations.