- What Are Feedback And Constructive Criticism, And Why Are They Important?
- When is Criticism Not Useful?
- How to Give Feedback in an Effective And Constructive Way
- 5 Words/Phrases to Use & Avoid When Giving Effective Feedback
- Always Focus on Development and Improvement
- What to do When an Employee Takes Feedback Negatively
- The Importance of Understanding Personality Types When Delivering Feedback
- When Conducting an Appraisal
If you want your business to succeed, you need to focus completely upon your employees.
Of course, you also need to make sure that you make strong and sound business decisions, that your marketing plan is flourishing, and that your goods and services are top notch, but if your employees aren’t happy during their days at their office desks, everything is going to fail pretty quickly.
Morale has an extremely close link to productivity, and productivity is practically family when it comes to profits. So, if you want to be profitable, you need to ensure that morale within your contemporary office is high.
There are many ways to ensure that morale remains high, but sometimes you might need to talk to your employees about things which aren’t going so well, about issues that have arisen, or maybe you just want to give some open and honest feedback. Of course, feedback can be positive or negative, but when it comes to giving negative feedback, you need to be far more careful in terms of how you deliver it, than you do when it’s positive. Everyone loves positive feedback, so go ahead and just say it, you don’t need to sugar coat it when it’s good!
The key to getting the best out of your employees is to make sure you’re giving constructive feedback in a way which doesn’t damage morale, and which ensures future progress and improvement. It’s a fine line, but it’s one which can easily be achieved with careful thinking and delivery.
Handily, that’s exactly what this guide is going to talk about. By the end, you should be feeling pretty confident about giving feedback to your employees, ensuring that they take it in the way it is intended.
So, let’s talk about feedback, delve into how to give it, how not to give it, and learn a few more tricks along the way.
What Are Feedback And Constructive Criticism, And Why Are They Important?
You might think that feedback and constructive criticism are the same, and on the surface, they may look very similar. However, there is a small, but vital, difference to understand.
According to Lexico, the definition of feedback is:
“Information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”
So, what is constructive criticism and how is it different?
Constructive criticism is generally negative feedback, but it is given in a way which ensures the person can learn from it, therefore leading to self development and improvement in service delivery. Feedback can be positive or negative, but constructive criticism is always negative in some way. The key is to put a positive spin on it, to lessen the blow, reduce the impact on morale, and ensure that the employee learns from it and changes their approach in the future.
Perhaps an employee has been late with submitting their work lately, and you want to remind them about deadlines. Rather than steaming in and telling them to stop being late, an example of constructive criticism could be “I’ve noticed that some of your assignments have been a little late over the last couple of weeks and I just wanted to check in and see if there’s anything we can do to help you out? I know things can get a little crazy sometimes, so please let us know if you need anything”.
As you can see, you’re hitting the heart of the problem, i.e. the work being late, but you’re making it less ‘scolding’ by asking if there is any help they need. You’re getting the criticism part done, but you’re offering a constructive solution. There are countless negative feedback examples we could give, but the key is to make sure that whatever criticism you give, you lessen the negative impact with the words you choose.
Of course, it also depends upon how the employee handles feedback and criticism too. Some people don’t take too kindly to it! That’s something we’re going to cover in more detail later on, but for both managers and employees, it’s important to be able to accept constructive criticism and see it as a learning opportunity.
Check out this video for a few pointers.
When is Criticism Not Useful?
If the feedback you’re giving is overly critical and doesn’t offer any guidance, it’s not going to do much for the morale of that particular employee at their designer office desk, and word may quickly spread around the office that you’re dishing out criticism unnecessarily.
As a manager, it’s vital to deliver feedback in the right way and to know what not to do. Of course, this guide is going to give you far more information on that, but it’s vital that you know the drastic effects of unnecessary criticism.
Criticism isn’t useful if:
- You’re giving criticism for the sake of it and not offering any help or guidance to improve the situation or performance
- You’re giving criticism in a very negative way and not choosing your words carefully
- You’re giving criticism on something which isn’t really that important - save your feedback for areas which have a big impact on productivity and the smooth running of the business, and avoid nit-picking for the sake of it
- You’re giving criticism in front of people. For instance, perhaps you’re all sat around the boardroom furniture in a team meeting and you decide to give direct feedback to a particular employee. Doing that in front of everyone could have a very negative effect on that person’s confidence and on the entire team’s morale - you’re basically singling them out and that’s not a good way to go
- You use the opportunity to point out several problems. When giving constructive criticism, stick to one point and make sure that you put a positive spin on it by offering the guidance we mentioned earlier.
Constructive criticism, despite the fact the phrase has the word ‘criticism’ in it, can actually turn out to be positive when delivered and taken correctly. It can prove to be a self development tool, a learning curve, and it can help to improve morale too.
There should always be a positive that goes alongside a negative, and by highlighting the positive, you’re lessening the blow of the negative. Of course, you’re still ensuring that the improvement that is required, happens, possibly by requesting follow up or choosing your words carefully.
How to Give Feedback in an Effective And Constructive Way
Learning how to give constructive feedback isn’t really that difficult, but there are a few key points that you need to understand before delivering any feedback at all.
For a few basics, before we go on to discuss in more detail, check out this infographic.
Source - https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/282489
Remember, any feedback you give has to be required, necessary, and it has to be delivered in a way which isn’t going to damage the confidence or morale of the employee or the entire team.
Let’s check out a few do’s and don’ts.
- Make sure that whatever you say has a learning curve attached to it - Constructive criticism without any guidance or constructive element is literally just criticism. That means you’re just pointing out a negative, plain and simple. Sure, your employee might need to be told that they’re doing something which isn’t working or something that is possibly wrong, but if you just come out and say “don’t do that”, they’re going to feel belittled and their confidence is going to be knocked in a big way. You’re also showing other employees that you’re not particularly sensitive when speaking to your staff. Part of your responsibility as a manager is to ensure that you’re able to guide your employees in the right direction, so make sure you always have something constructive and positive to share.
- Make them feel valued - When giving feedback, you need to make sure that your employees know they’re valued, whether the feedback is positive or negative. When employees don’t feel valued, morale drops to the floor and productivity quickly follows suit.
- Watch your body language - When communicating any type of information, negative, positive, or anything else, you need to ensure that your body language and your words are in alignment; your body language could be completely misinterpreting what you’re saying! Keep your body language relaxed and avoid appearing nervous or uninterested.
- Overly sugar-coat what you have to say - A little later on we’re going to talk about the fact that you need to sugar-coat negative feedback a little, but going over the top is not going to help. There is a difference between adding a hint of positivity to something and sugar-coating to the point of disguising the actual criticism!
- Provide feedback on several things at once - You might have more than one issue you need to speak to a particular employee about, but don’t do it all at once, and make sure that if you do need to follow up on something else, you space out the criticism. If you don’t, you’re going to make them feel that you’re ‘getting at them’ all the time, which is going to make them feel lacking in confidence and perhaps even a little resentful.
- Give feedback in front of others - We’ve touched upon this one, but make sure you speak to your employee privately. Invite them into your office and have an informal chat, or ask if you can meet in the office booths for a quick chat. Giving feedback in private is always better than in a group.
5 Words/Phrases to Use & Avoid When Giving Effective Feedback
There are many aspects of giving constructive feedback that you need to bear in mind, such as timing, body language, tone of voice, etc, but it also comes down to the words you use. Yes, your body is going to speak for you if your body language is screaming something completely different to what you’re saying, and the way you say something is important too, but we always remember the words someone says first and foremost. That means when you’re giving feedback to an employee, either around the modern boardroom tables on a one to one basis or you’re having a quick chat in your office, you need to choose the right types of words and phrases.
Let’s check out 5 things you should try and say, versus 5 things you should most definitely avoid.
Words/Phrases to Use:
- “I understand” - This shows empathy and helps the employee see that you’re on their side
- “Great” - This is an adjective that creates a sense of positivity and helps your employee feel confident from the get-go
- “This needs work but …” The ‘but’ in that sentence is what creates the change. If you just say ‘this needs work’ and leave it at that, you’ve left them hanging and you haven’t given them any direction. However, if you say “I really like what you did with this project. It needs a little work but you’re on the right track”, you’re showing a positive and a negative that needs to be improved.
- “I/we value …” - Again, you’re showing your employee that you value their performance and their input, which increases morale and lessens the blow of the negative you’re about to deliver, or you already have delivered.
- “Let’s see if we can go a step further” - This is a little like ‘this needs some work’. You’ve acknowledged that what they’ve done already is good, but you want to improve it further.
Words/Phrases to Avoid:
- “Unacceptable” - This is a little akin to being ‘told off’ at school, so avoid using this type of language and be a little more encouraging.
- “No offence …” - Basically, by saying “no offence” you are being off-handed and we tend to say that phrase when we’re about to insult someone personally or their work. Avoid!
- “You should” - This depends on how you say it, but by saying “you should” you’re dictating what you want them to do, rather than helping them to come to the right solution on their own. It’s better to guide than to tell.
- “If I were you” - You’re not them, you’re you and they’re them! It’s a common phrase we use but it’s not helpful and it’s quite derogatory when giving guidance to someone in the workplace.
- “To be honest” - Again, it’s a little too chatty and it shows that you’re about to tell them something they’re probably not going to like. It’s not helpful and it doesn’t show guidance.
It’s really about being mindful of what you’re saying and ensuring that your words are helpful and offer guidance to your employees, rather than dictating, telling them what to do, or showing signs of displeasure. You’re not ‘telling them off’ or scolding them, they’re adults after all!
Always Focus on Development and Improvement
As a manager, part of your job is to guide and inspire your employees, acting as a role model and mentor. You can do that by offering guidance that helps them to improve work-wise.
A good way to do that is to create what is known as a ‘constructive criticism sandwich’. Check out this infographic which explains how it works.
Source - https://visual.ly/community/Infographics/business/how-give-constructive-criticism-sandwich
Do your best to include a detail which your employee can work on. That could be being more punctual, more organised, more focused, going into a bit more detail, being more creative, being brave enough to push the boundaries, etc. You can create a positive out of anything if you’re careful with your words and you deliver the feedback you want to give in a way which focuses on development and improvement.
By doing this, you’re showing your employees that you value their future development and that you want to help them reach their potential. By simply saying “that’s fine”, you’re just letting them carry on in the same way when perhaps they could do better. They will recognise and improve this if you use the ‘sandwich’ technique we mentioned above. Then, office morale will remain high and productivity will do the same.
Of course, you should have an office culture which encourages learning and development too. Have a learning zone in your office, add in some laptops and comfortable office chairs and allow employees to use that space when they want to complete online courses and research, etc. Perhaps encourage employees to request training courses they want to go on. Having this type of office culture makes giving feedback far easier because employees know that it’s part of the improvement feel in your office space.
What to do When an Employee Takes Feedback Negatively
There may be times when employees don’t take feedback in the way it is intended. Of course, being aware of how to give feedback in the right way will cut down on the number of occasions this happens, but it will happen sometimes.
So, what should you do?
Firstly make sure that the words and approach you’re using are constructive. Check out this infographic for a few reminders.
Source - https://blog.taskque.com/clever-feedback-constructive-way/
Giving and receiving feedback is equally difficult, whether you’re used to it or not. If you don’t quite hit the mark the first time, you can always ask the employee to have a quick chat with you around the boardroom table and clarify what you mean. By doing that, you’re showing that you don’t want them to take what you’ve said the wrong way and that you’re mindful of their feelings. Use phrases like “I feel like you might have misunderstood what I was trying to say to you the other day and I’d like to clarify”, or “I just wanted to touch base after our chat the other day, and check how you’re doing”.
At the end of the day, what is negative feedback if it’s not negative, right? That means occasionally it will be taken in a way that you really didn’t want it to be. You don’t have control over how something is interpreted by another person, but you can do your best to ensure that you’re clear from the start.
If you do have to talk to them again, be a little more gentle and explain that you were not being overly negative, but that you’re simply looking for a different result.
You’ll know if someone has taken your feedback negatively because their body language will scream it to you. They may also seem off-handed or maybe even angry/upset, and people might start to talk about it or tell you that something isn’t quite right with that particular employee. You might even notice that they call in sick or maybe their demeanour is simply ‘off’. Always be on the lookout for these types of things and don’t let the situation spiral out of control. A quick chat and clarification are really all it takes to rectify the problem.
The Importance of Understanding Personality Types When Delivering Feedback
Let’s expand on the last point. When giving feedback to your employees, you need to tailor your approach subtly according to their personality type. If you have a very sensitive employee, you’ll have to be very careful with your words and make sure that your body language is positive and cheerful, to avoid them assuming that you’re criticising them negatively and knocking their confidence in a big way.
With a very extroverted employee, you need to be careful that you’re not reining in their creativity or their confidence, and do your best to encourage them to continue being creative and vocal, but with a few small changes.
You don’t have to sit all your employees down and get them to take a personality test to be able to figure out what type of personality they are. You only need a rough idea of this, and a good manager will be able to figure it out pretty quickly. Introverts and extroverts react differently to situations, as do ambiverts.
You also need to be careful how you give feedback to different generational groups in some cases too. For instance, if you are a young manager, giving feedback to a considerably older employee, you will need to make sure that the language you’re using isn’t condescending. This can be a very difficult situation to try and navigate and if you get it wrong, you could end up with a very disgruntled employee, low morale, and they’ll probably make it known in the office that they’re not happy too. All of this affects office morale as a whole and productivity.
Basically, just be kind, honest, and speak to the employee on their level. You’re both humans at the end of the day, regardless of whether you’re a manager or not. Talk and discuss, rather than dictating and telling. Explore ideas together, rather than being firm with what you want. This is a far better route forwards and regardless of the personality type or generational group, you’ll find that your employee responds in a far more positive way.
Of course, that’s not to say that every differing personality or generational group is going to have a problem with what you say, but if you say it in the wrong way and press their button negatively, you could have a problem on your hands. We’re all different and sometimes that means that you need to alter your approach according to the person you’re speaking to.
When Conducting an Appraisal
Choosing the right time and place to give feedback is important but appraisals, or staff development reviews, are good times to do it. Of course, there will be many times when you can’t wait a year to give the feedback you need to give, and you’ll need to call your employee into your office and have a chat around your executive office desk. But, if you have generalised feedback that can wait until their next review, it’s a good idea to do just that.
Many employees are fearful of appraisals, however, because they have a stigma attached to them. They’re seen as a time to be told about everything they’re doing wrong, but that’s actually not what an appraisal is for. It’s for this reason that many companies have chosen to rename them and call them staff development reviews instead.
This yearly rendezvous is designed to be a two-way conversation. Employees can talk about things that are bothering them, perhaps give feedback on the office environment or any issues with management or colleagues, and it’s also a time to request training, perhaps talk about future career opportunities and ask for advice on how to progress. It’s not a negative appointment!
From a management point of view, appraisals/staff development reviews can be a good opportunity to give constructive criticism when needed, but it’s also a time to give plenty of positive feedback and encouragement too. You can find out a lot of useful information from a staff development review, and you can also ask for advice and suggestions on how to make the office run more effectively. All of this is designed to help the employee in their self development journey, their future career, and it’s also designed to help them improve in their current position too.
For the low-down on appraisals, check out this video.
Doing the right amount of preparation before an appraisal is vital, for both the employee and the manager. This means writing a list of the things you want to talk about and any points you don’t want to forget. By doing that, you can keep the conversation on track and ensure that you both talk about the things that are important for you. However, it’s important to try and keep this conversation as positive as possible. If you do need to give some negative feedback during an appraisal, be sure to use the ‘sandwich’ approach we talked about earlier, to avoid morale being damaged.
When used in the right way, an appraisal or staff development review, can be a very useful and positive tool for both the manager and the employee.
How do you feel about giving effective and constructive feedback now? You should be feeling more positive and informed about how to do this in the right way, and you should have learned a few strategies to help you deliver feedback in a way which prompts the right response.
No matter how much we would all like to think, nobody is perfect. We all have areas in which we need to improve and we all make mistakes. Accepting negative feedback can be very difficult for some people, whilst others find it easier to deal with. As a manager, your role is to know your employees and deliver feedback in a way which doesn’t damage confidence or morale, and inspires the right kind of reaction.
Of course, as a manager, you should also be open to hearing feedback from your employees too. How can you improve as a manager? What areas of improvement can you focus on for the future? By being open to such feedback you ensure that you create an open, honest, and positive culture within your office space, with high-quality communication and a will to constantly improve.
When that happens, morale skyrockets, productivity follows suit and profits? They’re not far behind either!