How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

March 08, 2022 - Dom Barnard

Communication within any team is vital. This is especially true when there are solutions to be found regarding specific problems at work or if the overall effectiveness of team members’ working practices could be improved.

However important these problem-solving conversations may be, it can be difficult for a manager or co-worker to raise areas of concern in discussions with employees or other team members.

Here we outline the importance of being able to give constructive feedback to other members of your team, as well as some tips on how to use this method of feedback effectively.

What is constructive feedback?

Feedback is a necessary part of communication between a manager and their employees and also between colleagues within a team. Workers need to know what is going well, what’s not going so well, and what they need to do to maximize their output and to best benefit themselves and the business.

Positive feedback consists of praise, encouragement, and recognition of achievements, and is obviously important for raising team morale and encouraging productivity.

Of course, things don’t always go well, however. At times it might be necessary to draw a worker’s attention to a mistake or to less than ideal working practices more generally. If framed in a negative way, this is criticism, which can feel very personal and could be disheartening for your co-workers to hear.

With constructive feedback, it is possible to highlight issues in a way that might feel less critical or personal to your team members, while also looking for solutions and moving forward in a positive way. This can be a very effective method of approaching any difficulties and of managing a team to its best potential.

Do people want to hear constructive feedback?

As a team leader, you might feel that other members of your team will be less than enthusiastic to hear about any issues you might have with their work. If you are working within a team below management level, you might also have the difficult task of encouraging your colleagues to approach things in a different way.

It’s certainly true that it’s not easy to be criticized. A worker will be likely to become demotivated and demoralized if they feel you think they are not good enough.

However, constructive feedback is intended to be a less critical and more problem-solving form of feedback, which can lead to better team spirit and mutual respect between colleagues.

If delivered in the right way, constructive feedback should help an employee to feel encouraged to improve and supported to fix or avoid mistakes.

How to give constructive feedback

It’s important that members of your team feel supported and encouraged to work enthusiastically and effectively. Too much negative feedback can really dampen the spirits of individuals or even a team as a whole.

To keep morale boosted, you should always help your team members find solutions to any issues, and this is where constructive feedback comes into its own. Here are some tips on how to give effective constructive feedback to your team.

1. Hold regular one-to-one meetings with your team

To help ensure that your team members feel valued and heard, consider holding regular one-to-one meetings with each of them. This will create a space for them to raise any issues they have, and it will be easier for you to work with them on an ongoing basis to iron out any current or potential issues that need discussing.

You could also make time in the diary to have an ad hoc one-to-one with an employee if any further difficulties arise, but it’s easier to keep the feedback constructive if you work this type of regular discussion into your ongoing management style.

Your team members will feel respected, valued, and listened to, and they will be more likely to come to you with any problems before they get out of hand.

Feedback meeting in an office

2. Emphasise the positive

It’s never easy to discuss problems at work, especially if an issue has arisen from something someone has done (or not done). However, we all make mistakes, and we can all benefit from learning from them.

If you find yourself in the position of having to have a difficult conversation with a member of your team, help take the pressure off the situation by leading with some positive feedback.

People are more likely to feel motivated at work if they feel they are appreciated and valued, so make sure your employees know that you recognize their positive efforts before tackling any problems. This will also help them to receive constructive feedback more effectively, as they won’t feel that they are being criticized so much.

3. Don’t make it personal

An employee will quickly become demotivated if they feel they are under attack or being personally criticized. Frame your discussions to focus on the issue that needs addressing, and emphasize how you might work together to move forwards in dealing with it, rather than focusing directly on the working practice of the individual.

This will help ensure that their morale is boosted and they will be more likely to be able to address the necessary problems effectively.

4. Keep it simple

You might find that you have more than one issue that you need to take up with a colleague or member of your team, and it could be tempting to list them all in the same meeting. Consider simplifying your feedback, perhaps just taking one or two of the more important issues at a time.

Taking one issue at a time will enable you and your team member to work together to find a solution before moving on to the next problem. This is an important approach in working with a growth mindset and in keeping tasks achievable in order to promote success.

It will also help to protect your team member’s well-being if they don’t feel that you’re picking them up on everything they are doing. This will benefit their mental health as an employee and your working relationship with each other.

It will also have a knock-on effect of benefiting your business as a whole, since workers are likely to be more productive if they feel encouraged rather than criticized.

5. Help find solutions – and make a plan

A big part of giving constructive feedback is working together to help to find a solution for any problems. This is the key to the word ‘constructive’. During your discussions with your team members, it will help if you suggest or brainstorm with them some ways that their work could be even better.

Even if things are going well, there is always room for improvement, and your co-workers will feel encouraged to perform at their best if they are working for the team.

It almost always helps to pool ideas at work, and it could well be that your employees genuinely can’t see another way of approaching a task. As a manager your role is to guide your team to success, so talk through solutions together as a way out of difficulties. This will also help to boost team morale as your employees will feel supported.

It will help to draw up a problem-solving plan with your team members as a practical way to implement any changes. Not only will this make these changes easier to approach, but it also gives you and your employee something to come back to later, when following up and discussing progress.

6. Finish on a high

Finally, close any awkward discussions by emphasizing again what’s going well. This can be recapping on the positive elements that you drew upon at the start of your meeting, or it could be an encouraging word about the next steps for improvement.

Team members will feel much more motivated and able to act on constructive feedback effectively if they leave discussions with you on a high, rather than feeling like their efforts at work have been pulled apart.

Delivered in the right way, constructive feedback is about working together as a team to make improvements to working practice. Your team will be stronger and more productive for being able to have these discussions with you.