Mastering the Art of Constructive Feedback

The ability to encourage growth in others is a crucial skill for any manager. While many managers find the practice challenging, constructive feedback is ultimately one of the best competencies a manager can master to improve employee performance.

What Is Constructive Feedback?

Offering constructive feedback means giving an employee criticism in a way that encourages growth. For feedback to be constructive, it shouldn’t just focus on what an employee has done wrong. Instead, it should offer solutions, emphasize positive elements of performance and frame the employee as a team member, rather than a culprit.

Keeping all these elements in balance is difficult and takes practice. Below are some helpful hints for managers to keep in mind.

Successfully Delivering Constructive Feedback

  • Consider Timing

When it comes to constructive feedback, timing is everything. Feedback should ideally be offered on a regular basis. According to Office Vibe, 43 percent of employees considered “highly engaged” at their jobs receive feedback at least once a week. Furthermore, companies that provide regular feedback have a nearly 15 percent lower turnover rate.

Regular feedback prevents employees from feeling like they are only noticed when things go wrong. It allows for mistakes to be addressed quickly and builds rapport between workers and their managers.

  • Give Honest Praise

People are good at noticing when others aren’t sincere. Managers should be able to convey to their teams that they care about their success — and that they mean it. If workers think any commendation they receive is not genuine, they’ll be far less likely to work hard. When giving praise, managers should be as specific as they can. “I appreciate how you made that deadline” is always better than a simple “good job.”

  • Set Clear and Attainable Goals

If managers want their employees to progress, they must give them tangible objectives to work toward. “Do better on your presentations” is far less helpful than “speak clearly next time.” Managers should also make sure their employees are capable of the goals that are set for them. If the best sales record at a company is 20 products per month, don’t expect an individual to sell 25 in a single week.

  • Listen

Listening is a key aspect in building trust. Trust, subsequently, leads to better employee outcomes. Listening can include anything from asking employees for solutions, to collective issues, to making yourself available if they have concerns. When employees know that managers take them seriously, they are better able to absorb the feedback they receive.

  • Don’t Make It Personal

Managers have the best chance of improving employee behavior when the employees understand that it’s about their work, not their character. It’s important to refrain from personal attacks. Managers should make it clear that they are available to help employees get better and should offer solutions to identified problems. Keeping the focus on the work rather than the person emphasizes that both parties are working toward the same goals.

Examples of Constructive Feedback

Here are several successful examples of constructive feedback scripts:

When an employee makes a mistake:

Manager: “I noticed (XYZ). Let’s talk about what happened and how to develop a process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Employee: “Oh, but it won’t.”

Manager: “Great, let’s talk about why it happened so I can understand the context and make sure those elements don’t occur again.”

Employee: “That makes sense.”

When an employee has a poor attitude:

Manager: “You seem really unhappy. Is something going on?”

Employee: “No, it’s just all these other co-workers. They’re all so difficult.”

Manager: “Regardless of your personal feelings, I need you to treat all people courteously and respectfully. Can you do that?”

Employee: “OK.”

When an employee has poor time management skills:

Manager: “This is the third time you’ve been late. What’s going on?”

Employee: “I just have a hard time getting out of the house in the morning.”

Manager: “I need you to be here by 9 a.m. because your co-workers are relying on you. Do you want to brainstorm strategies to get out of the house?”

Employee: “That sounds reasonable.”

When an employee has trouble getting along with someone:

Manager: “What strategies have you tried to resolve the issue with (co-worker)?”

Employee: “I’ve tried talking to them, but they don’t listen to anything I say.”

Manager: “Let’s all have a conversation together.”

Employee: “Well, I guess I could try that.”

When an employee did not take initiative:

Manager: “I notice that you didn’t do (task). I thought we had agreed that you would. I’m disappointed.”

Employee: “I’m sorry. I just had a lot on my mind.”

Manager: “In the future, let me know about your workload so I can help you prioritize.”

Employee: “I’ll do my best.”


When an employee is missing meetings:

Manager: “Where were you at the Johnson meeting?”

Employee: “I forgot about it. I’m sorry.”

Manager: “I really need you to go to meetings. It’s disrespectful to your colleagues to waste their time. Please make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Employee: “OK. I’ll do better next time.”

Ultimately, mastering the art of constructive feedback leads to a work environment defined by cohesion and cooperation. For a company, there is no better consequence. A successful, aware workforce leads to more satisfied employees and better organizational outcomes.

Additional sources: Forbes, HubSpot

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