A Handy Guide to Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism

January 18, 2018

Giving and receiving criticism can often be awkward and tricky. Simon shares his tips on how to handle it properly!

By Simon Underwood

3 Perspectives to consider

  • You’re at your wits end, you’ve explained how to do this basic task to your employee and they don’t get it, you may want to shout and scream at them or have a bitch to another colleague, but you know deep down neither is the correct way forward.
  • On the flip side; you get that sinking feeling in your stomach you know you’ve made an error and it’s plain for everyone to see you feel a combination of annoyance with yourself and embarrassment that you’ve dropped the ball on this one.
  • Then there’s the member of the team who is generally a good all-rounder, a steady Eddie, they get on with their role with little fuss. However, there is something they do or don’t do that rubs the rest of the team up the wrong way and they are totally oblivious to it. How are you going to raise this issue with them, knowing that they will be shocked and possibly offended at your feedback.

Giving Feedback

Constructive feedback is needed when:

  • Someone asks for an opinion on how they’re doing.
  • Unresolved problems persist.
  • Errors occur again and again.
  • Employee performance does not meet expectations.
  • The work habits of peers disturb you.

Tips on the type of language to use:

  • Focus on description not judgement.
  • Focus on observation rather than inference.
  • Describe the behaviour rather than the person.
  • Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback
  • Be aware of feedback overload.
  • Address no more that 2/3 feedback points.

6 Step feedback method:

  1. State the purpose of the feedback.
  2. Describe specifically what you have observed.
  3. Describe your reactions – explain the consequences of another person’s behaviour.
  4. Give the employee an opportunity to respond- remain silent and meet the other persons eye, indicating that you are waiting for the answer, asked open ended questions (what do you think, what’s your view, tell me your thoughts?)
  5. Offer specific suggestions to fix the problem – do you need more time, resources or training?
  6. Summarise and express your support.

Other methods of feedback

The S**t Sandwich:

Whilst commonly used as an effective method of feedback, some things to consider are:

  1. Ensure the negative is specifically highlighted and a method of resolution is agreed.
  2. The positives are not amplified to an extent that the recipient leaves thinking the meeting was about their positives.
  3. The method is used so frequently that the recipients can smell the s**t a mile off and know, despite the praise, exactly what’s really coming! “You’re a really great and valued employee…”, “Uh-oh, what have I done?”.

One Size Fits All:

Driven by the manager’s need to get the issue off their chest as opposed to helping the individual improve. Studies show that the best way to tailor feedback for each individual is to be encouraging and positive with novices to help them gain confidence and more critical and negative with experts so they can perfect their role.

Receiving feedback

  • Try to de-personalise the feedback: Be open and show a willingness to change and be ready to ask for help with that.
  • Stop fighting the facts: Don’t push back against reality, understand the lesson at hand and respond in a helpful way.
  • Focus on yourself: Focus on what you can do to make the situation better.
  • Re-frame the situation: Identify positives from the setback, see them as ‘growing pains’.
  • Drive for results and learning: Focus on results over you need to be right, take accountability for the situation, account for your actions and thoughts that led to the current results.
  • Take responsibility: Learn the lesson and know what to do in the future, learn to accept negative feedback as helpful not hurtful and adjust your reaction accordingly.


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