Few people are likely to raise their hands with an enthusiastic ‘me’ when it comes to receiving criticism. But those who are advocates of it know that constructive feedback is not only useful but also essential.
People don’t love feedback too much because they are unfortunate recipients of crippling criticism – the kind that makes them feel as though they aren’t able to do anything worthy. That outlook may change if they understand the difference between negative criticism and constructive feedback that helps them grow.
Telling the Difference Between Constructive and Negative Feedback
Giving criticism is integral to your role, whether you’re a parent or a manager who looks after the performance and welfare of staff. Many people feel that they have done their jobs as long as their children or subordinates receive some feedback. The raw truth is that criticism isn’t useful if it shatters the recipient’s confidence completely.
Delivery is the key, and the first step to doing so effectively is to understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.
People use negative feedback if their goal is to shatter a recipient’s confidence. Managers may tell their subordinates how poorly they’ve performed on tasks without providing evidence or reasons for their evaluations. Employees seldom understand why they’ve underperformed or know how to make improvements.
And there is a parallel to the home – parents who give negative feedback to their children may discipline their youngsters without telling them why they have earned harsh criticism.
Constructive feedback, conversely, instills confidence in an employee or child. Think about your favorite teachers when you were in school. They were probably the ones who knew how to point out the errors in your assignments without making you feel as though the topics assigned were out of your league.
Similarly, respected and competent managers are the ones who highlight the flaws in their employees’ performances without making them feel like complete failures at their jobs.
Why Constructive Criticism Isn’t Always Bad
Feedback in any form isn’t easy to swallow. Perhaps you need some convincing.
First of all, feedback tells people about your expectations and improves performance. Learning about their strengths increases the confidence of your employees. They gain the motivation they need to improve their skills and align with business objectives. The person who provides feedback also becomes proficient when doing it.
Furthermore, organizations invest considerable sums of money in finding talent. That said, employees have to spend a significant amount of time learning their roles and responsibilities. Feedback helps them with their work so that companies won’t have to find replacements.
Feedback improves trust. It creates a bond between parents and children. Most children understand that parents mean well when they make suggestions. If you are a manager, giving constructive, open feedback to your employees builds their rapport with you. It inspires loyalty.
A manager’s role is to offer feedback that encourages a staff’s development. It is vital that he or she does so on an ongoing basis and not only when performance reviews come around.
How to Provide Constructive Feedback
Constructive feedback is essential to get others to improve on their shortcomings, without causing ill-feeling or shattering their confidence. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Be specific and focus on the problem
First of all, instead of merely telling people what they need to do better, explain why they need to make improvements. Saying “You need to submit work on time” and leaving the statement open assumes that recipients understand what the problem is. However, this may not be the case – perhaps the employee has never faced the ire of bosses before.
Also, never assume that people have the necessary background information they need. They may not understand how their behavior affects you or others. The more you focus on the problem, the more likely the recipient of the feedback is to address it.
If necessary, tell them how the situation affects you and the rest of the business. The more specific you can make your feedback, the more actionable it will be.
2. Don’t get personal
“Constructive” implies that feedback should focus on impartial observations instead of personal attributes.
“Your draft was poor” isn’t likely to get a warm reception. The recipient of the feedback will probably see it as a personal attack instead of an objective assessment, even if the work is not up to par. Focus on the problem at hand and not the person’s attributes.
3. Use the Sandwich Method
One essential key to making feedback palatable is to include positives with the negatives. It tells everyone that you have a balanced perspective.
Deliver feedback like you would serve a sandwich. State the positives, discuss problems, and finish off with more positive feedback to cushion any sting.
For example, you can tell a child, “You’ve improved your math test score.” Then discuss the areas that need improvement. “But the algebra needs some work.” It’s essential to finish off with, “You’ll become a math whiz in no time.”
You can use this approach if you’re addressing employees. Start with “You did an excellent job this quarter. Sales are up by 15%.” Then, discuss the problem areas.”Customers have mentioned that response times are a little slow.” Round off with “Overall; they are delighted with the work you’ve done.”
Be careful not to be too positive as you may come across as insincere; everyone needs to improve. The Sandwich Method of delivering feedback ensures a balanced perspective.
4. Be direct but informal
Try not to use technology such as email, text message, or the phone to relay your feedback, as this can lead to misinterpretation and make it seem less important than it is.
Don’t deliver feedback via text messages or emails unless circumstances entail otherwise. Using technology may lead to misinterpretation and cause people to dismiss it.
Have an honest chat with the person instead. Try not to beat around the bush because constructive feedback is most effective when delivered straight to the point.
Find a quiet meeting room where you can have an honest and informal one-on-one chat with the employee. At the same time, try not to beat around the bush; whether it’s positive or negative, feedback is most effective when you get straight to the point.
5. Show your sincerity
Make sure that your tone and manner matches your feedback, to avoid confusion. If it’s positive, make sure that your body language shows that you appreciate the person’s efforts. If the input is negative, use a serious tone to indicate that the problem needs addressing.
Again, remember not to address personal attributes to prevent blame assignation or fault finding.
To ensure that your feedback is constructive, allow recipients to respond. The response time is essential, especially if the criticism is negative. It shows them that you are genuinely interested in their interpretation of events and that you sincerely welcome their solutions.
7. Make it timely
Always try to give positive feedback when the employee’s praiseworthy achievement is still fresh in everyone’s memory. Give positive feedback when the achievement is still fresh in everybody’s minds, to ensure objectivity.
Timing is essential when delivering negative feedback. Again, it’s wise to cool off before addressing issues to ensure that you don’t color your feedback with emotion.
Receiving Negative Feedback
Feedback is a two-way street. We receive criticism as often as we give it; here’s how to accept input like a professional.
1. It’s never personal.
First of all, feedback isn’t personal if you deliver it constructively. It merely consists of impartial observations, whether in a business context or otherwise.
It doesn’t matter if the person giving the feedback is being mean or wishes you well. What counts is yourself and your reaction. Respond respectfully and with gratitude. Remember that you’re intelligent enough to discern if the person means well.
2. Ask for examples.
Most people try not to offend when giving feedback and therefore skirt around the issues at hand.
They try to be as polite as they can, which is excellent for removing the sting of negativity. However, you will need to provide details if you wish to get to the root of the issue.
Show that you’re not interested in fault finding but only in solving problems.
3. Get help.
A sure-fire way to show your interest in another person’s feedback is to ask for advice on improving your performance. Say, “I feel the same way as you do and would like to do better. Do you have any advice?”
When you acknowledge the truth of the feedback and ask for advice, you show your willingness to learn. The deliverer of the input is likely to respond with helpful counsel.
4. Share your progress.
You are likely to work on areas that need improvement if you respect the people who deliver the feedback. Share your progress with them and show them that you are willing to take the steps necessary to improve your performance.
5. Be a feedback mirror.
Remember that people make themselves vulnerable to criticism themselves when they deliver it; after all, no one’s perfect.
That may be why people are so rarely honest about what they think of others. Offer yourself as a partner in self-improvement, and you’re likely to become an agent of change.
Constructive feedback produces results without causing any hurt if delivered well. Try these the next time you are a deliverer or recipient.
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