5 steps to giving constructive feedback at work that really helps

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Effective feedback is important, especially in the workplace. It helps us understand our strengths, weaknesses, challenges and potentials. When taken mindfully, feedback can push us to improve our performance and motivate us to do great work.

Handling positive feedback is a breeze. Giving and receiving negative feedback can be tricky. You’ll be navigating a minefield of cultural norms when working in a multicultural environment. Cultural differences can also make it hard to determine whether our message was understood or not. Dr. Lionel Laroche explain this well in the video below:

Developing Cultural Diversity in your Organization, MultiCultural Business Solutions.

Tread lightly and don’t carry a big stick

First off, what is constructive criticism? Constructive criticism is helpful feedback that focuses on recommending ways to improve a task, service or product. It’s called constructive because it’s not meant to break down the person or the relationship – it’s more about improving the work and the system.

We all provide it in the workplace. Not only our leaders, supervisors or bosses have the right or opportunity to provide constructive criticism. It is part of the process when we work in teams. How we handle it is part of establishing credibility. When done well, it can help you strengthen relationships and create synergy within your team.

A good practice is to observe how your Canadian boss, peers and clients provide feedback. Note the cues when expressing satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction with your performance. This will help you understand their feedback to improve your performance. It will also guide you when you need to provide feedback to others. Dr. Lionel Laroche discusses the most common patterns that Canadian managers use for giving feedback in the video below:

Developing Cultural Diversity in your Organization, MultiCultural Business Solutions.

5 steps in giving constructive criticism:

  1. Know your intentions

    Keynote speaker, author and HR expert Deri Latimer suggests remembering the acronym T.H.I.N.K. before you provide someone feedback. It means checking:
    Is it True?
    Is it Helpful?
    Is it Inspiring?
    Is it Necessary?
    Is it Kind?

  2. Find the right place and time

    In most cases, it is best to criticize in private and on a one-on-one basis. Nobody wants to be embarrassed in front of other people. But if there is no chance that you can do it in private and you need to correct a situation right away (for example during a presentation or in a meeting), be tactful and polite. The best strategy is frame it as a question. Always leave room for the other person to explain.

  3. Try the feedback sandwich

    A feedback sandwich begins and ends with something positive. The real feedback is wedged between the two positive statements. It can sound something like this:

    “Your report was well-made. But I think you failed to mention important data on our work with the refugees last year. I did like the growth chart you made to end the presentation. It’s a good summary.”

    However, experts are divided on the effectiveness of the feedback sandwich. While the method softens the blow, some say that it can also bury the main message. The receiver might focus more on the positive statements and completely block out the points that need improvement. To prevent this, be straightforward but tactful. Emphasize your point when you deliver the message. You can still balance your content but afford more time to the points that the person needs to focus on. It may also help to suggest a plan of action. For example:

    “Your report was well-made. But I think you failed to mention data on our work with the refugees last year. It would have made the growth chart (which is a great idea for a summary, by the way) more complete because it explains why the numbers fluctuated in the second quarter. For the next presentation, do you think it would be a good idea to meet to discuss the types of data we should highlight before drafting the final report?”

  4. Limit it and be specific

    Don’t give a ton of criticism all in one go. It will be overwhelming! It will seem like all you see are the person’s faults and mistakes. Focus on one task and don’t generalize. Avoid saying: “You never submit your work on time.” Instead, say “You did not submit the report yesterday. Can we talk about how I can help you better manage your time moving forward?”

    A big part of providing constructive criticism is ensuring that you concentrate on the behavior, not the person. Avoid jumping to conclusions and judging a person’s character based on their output. To drive the message home better, contrast the impact of not changing the wrong behavior with the outcome if they change. This will make it clear how everyone will benefit by improving their performance.

  5. Provide a chance to respond

    Encourage a mature dialogue. Allow the person to respond to your feedback without feeling defensive. Good employees appreciate feedback and do not offer excuses about their performance. Most welcome the opportunity to improve. At the end of the conversation, offer support and encouragement. Everyone is a work in progress. We grow with each other’s support and reassurance.

Videos used with the kind permission of Dr. Lionel Laroche.

Sources: Receiving and giving effective feedback, Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo; Do you T.H.I.N.K before you speak? Deri Latimer, Huffpost; The psychology of feedback, Asa Don Brown, Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association; and 10 real-life examples of giving effective employee feedback, Nora St. Aubin, office vibe. Retrieved March 19, 2019.

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Community Resources

Do you want to view Dr. Lionel Laroche’s complete video series? Developing Cultural Dexterity in your Organization is an 18-part video series that talks about cultural differences in the Canadian workplace and how to manage them. Lionel Laroche is a cross-cultural consultant of Multicultural Business Solutions.

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