Unfortunately, no matter how much we practice improving our communication skills, we will still have occasions which require us to provide feedback or course correction to employees, team members or children. If done properly, the feedback will not only improve the situation, but will be truly appreciated by the person receiving it. Providing feedback in a constructive vs. destructive manner is not difficult if you keep a few things in mind:
1. Change your perspective. Many people avoid dealing with difficult situations. Perhaps they just don’t know how to say what needs to be said, they feel like they will be hurting the other person, or it feels like conflict. The truth is the opposite; it is actually more kind to tell that person what they are doing wrong, or what they need to fix to improve. In most cases, they don’t know there is an issue or realize how they are being perceived and will appreciate knowing that there is something keeping them from excelling in the company. That is, assuming you present the feedback tactfully and in a constructive fashion.
2. Constructive vs. Destructive. Recognize that constructive feedback is helpful. It focuses on the issue, targets a forward looking resolution, is not personal and is about learning. When done properly it will foster a sense of openness, build loyalty and be appreciated. Destructive or negative feedback comes across as an attack. It finds fault, points out deficiencies in a hurtful fashion, and feels like conflict. When done negatively it will certainly create defensiveness, be non-productive and kill morale. No one likes to be on the receiving end of an attack, so learn to handle these things properly and you’ll be a leader others want to follow.
Some specific tips to keep in mind.
- Focus on the action and not the person. It’s not about them making a wrong choice, it’s about how the wrong choice could be prevented, fixed, or how it affected things.
- Plan your words carefully and in advance so you say what you mean to say.
- Be direct about the issue, and don’t make passive statements hoping they can read between the lines (they can’t or else you wouldn’t be in the situation to begin with).
- Talk when you are calm, in private and can focus without interruptions. If the situation is emotional, wait a day or two to address calmly.
- Set specific expectations for the “going forward” behavior or outcome you want to see.
- Use active listening and ask open ended questions that will help you understand what happened, what their thought process was, and why they made that decision. Then you can focus on the decision (see a. above). But don’t ask “Why?” it only makes people defensive.
- Explain the effect or impact their action has on the rest of the team/company/family.
- Start with telling them what they are doing well. This sets the tone of the meeting and puts them at ease.
- Don’t give feedback by example. When giving feedback, identify the underlying issue, problem or behavior and focus only on that. If you talk in examples, the listener will focus on defending that specific situation and miss the primary point of your message. For instance, if you are having a problem with an employee who does sloppy work, don’t talk to them about the five errors you see in the report they just handed you. Instead explain that you need them to be more detailed in their work and focused on reducing mistakes, and that turning in poor work product will keep them from advancing in your organization. If they are unclear as to what you mean, you can then use examples to illustrate your point.
By learning to provide constructive feedback, you will benefit from not only a cessation of the poor behavior, but enhanced performance, and an improved chance of success in reaching the company’s goals. As a worthy side benefit, you’ll also be a respected leader and someone your people will trust and want to follow.