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 seriously, feedback can push us to improve our performance and motivate us to do great work.

Handling positive feedback is a breeze. What’s tricky is giving and receiving negative feedback. It can even be harder when you’re in a multicultural environment. Cultural differences can make it difficult to determine whether our message was understood or not. Dr. Lionel Laroche explains this well in the video below:

Developing Cultural Diversity in your Organization, MultiCultural Business Solutions.

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 building up 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 a big part of teamwork. How we provide and handle it helps establish credibility. When done well, it can help you form trust, 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 message and use it 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 communicate your message.
    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 and 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 message. To prevent this, be straightforward but tactful. Emphasize the points that the other 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. The growth chart is a great idea for a summary but it would have been more complete with the refugee figures. It also 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! 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 concentrating on the behavior, not the person. Avoid judging a person’s character based on their output. To drive your message home better, contrast the impact of not changing the wrong behavior with the outcome if they change. This will make it clear how they, and others, will benefit if they improve.

  5. Provide a chance to respond

    Encourage a mature dialogue. Allow the other person to respond to your feedback without feeling defensive. You will realize that good employees appreciate feedback and do not offer excuses about their performance. At the end of the conversation, offer support and encouragement. Each of us 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

Dr. Lionel Laroche is a Diversity in the Workplace and Multicultural Workforce Expert. He created this 18-part video series about cultural differences in the Canadian workplace and how to manage them. You can view his insightful video series here: Developing Cultural Dexterity in your Organization.

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