Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

Ever notice that when we criticize people, they usually get defensive?

But if they get defensive, they will not benefit from what we have to tell them. So how can we help others improve without butting heads?

One way is to avoid telling them directly that they did the wrong thing. This approach works the majority of the time and I discuss how to do this in, “6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit.” But what do you do when that method is ineffective, or for pressing issues that need to be discussed as soon as possible?

In those situations, we have to sit down with the person and give constructive feedback.

6 steps to giving constructive feedback:

Before the conversation:

1. Be humble. Sometimes, we think we know better than others and that only we can set them straight. The truth is that our criticism may be unfounded, our solution ill-advised and God has many messengers to lead people back to the right path. Even if you give the best advice, the person may not follow it. Ask God to help you give proper advice and to give the recipient the strength to make needed changes.

Each of us is filled with flaws and have made many mistakes. We have to acknowledge that, and when we give feedback, to do so humbly; one flawed human being trying to help another. If applicable, when giving feedback, let the person know about an area in which you struggled and overcame.

2. Establish rapport. To be most effective, the person receiving the feedback needs to know that you like and care about them, that you are on their side and want to help them. One way of building rapport is by giving compliments and expressing appreciation, i.e., giving much more positive feedback than negative feedback. If you have lapsed in giving ample positive feedback, either hold off on your negative comments until you do so, or at least start off the conversation with positive feedback.

3. Avoid giving unsolicited feedback; ask first. Speak to the person privately, when you are both calm and in a gentle tone of voice, without edge, frustration or anger. Ask them if they are open to your feedback. You cannot force someone to change; people change only if they want to. If someone is not interested in feedback (or doesn’t think your concern is an issue), there is no point in proceeding; the attempt will only antagonize them and frustrate you. Sometimes though, we still have to let others know what is expected of them and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

Often, people are willing to discuss the issue, just not when we bring it up; in that case, schedule a specific time for the discussion.


4. Keep it short and sweet. Most people will get the point right away and belaboring the issue will only annoy them. Give the context of what you are talking about and be specific and factual. After stating the facts, explain the effects of their actions from your perspective. To be nonjudgmental, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I was inconvenienced…” instead of, “You were inconsiderate…”

Speak respectfully and talk in a way that preserves their dignity; after all, you are speaking to one of God’s children. Keep the main focus on encouraging them to do better in the future; be specific how they can improve, explain the benefits and express your confidence in them to rise to the challenge.

5. Make it a joint effort. When giving your opinion or view of the situation, make it clear that this is the way you see things. Ask them what their view of the situation is; maybe there is a misunderstanding. It can be helpful to phrase the topic as “our issue” and not “your issue.” This shows that you’re on their side and want to work with them to overcome the difficulty. Get their input on the best way to address the issue; people are more likely to follow through on an idea they think of than one you suggest.

Depending on the situation, you may want to agree on a time to meet again to follow up. In the interim, do not bring up other concerns; people generally do best when they focus on improving one issue at a time.


6. Use positive reinforcement. It is demoralizing when a person tries to improve, only to be told it’s not good enough. Follow Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends & Influence People, “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.’” (He has a number of other helpful tips for giving constructive feedback, some of which I touched upon in this article.)

Giving empowering and effective feedback is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. When done right, you can change people’s lives, helping them overcome weaknesses and develop strengths. You help them transform into the people they were meant to be.

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