2 Simple Rules for Constructive Feedback

“I’d like to give you some constructive feedback.”

Constructive feedback tips for managers

Yikes. You know what? That sentence does not make me feel good. It makes me brace for what I’m about to hear. Like many people, it sends my brain into what neuroscientist David Rock calls a threat response.

This reaction is very common among us humans… and that includes the people you manage. Most people are not eager to hear so-called constructive feedback from their bosses. “Constructive,” a word that was once intended to connote the more positive aspects of feedback, is now a synonym for just plain “critical” in many people’s minds.

If you want your feedback to fall on open ears and have the positive impact on your employees’ performance that you’re looking for, there are two simple rules:

Rule #1: Don’t use the word constructive.

Rule #2: Don’t use the word feedback.

That’s right — don’t even utter the word feedback to your direct reports. You can think it to yourself silently if you’d like, and you can read it in this blog post, but just don’t say it out loud.

What to Do Instead

As managers, we’re there to help people be successful. When something a direct report is doing needs to be stopped or changed, or when they’re not doing something that needs to be started, you need to have a conversation. To pave the way for a positive impact and to get the performance change in your employee that you’re looking for, approach the conversation with a ‘solutions’ mindset. Start by holding a positive perspective about the individual. Remind yourself of the many things that the individual does well, as well as their contributions, their value, their successes.

Following is an example of a performance issue managers encounter and a way to handle it so you get the best out of your direct report.

An Example

Chris was fresh out of college and eager to do well in his first job. From the very start, he was always looking for new, challenging assignments. The team thought he was a great asset. One day after a meeting with his manager, Ravi, about new work the team was about to take on, Chris took it upon himself to announce these changes in the team meeting he was attending right after his meeting with Ravi. He went further by asking team members what role they’d like to play in the new assignment. From Ravi’s perspective, this was clearly an announcement and conversation that he should have been running and he wanted to let Chris know that. But Ravi also wanted to continue supporting Chris in taking initiative. So how do you give “constructive feedback” in a situation like this?

After the initial surprise at Chris’s actions, Ravi made a decision to shift his perspective. Instead of feeling that Chris usurped his role, he put his ego aside, and he saw the situation for what it was – someone in his first job who loves taking the initiative. With that mindset, Ravi started off on a positive note. And then he used the 4 steps for effective performance adjustment conversations and set a relaxed, non-judgmental tone to pave the way for solution.

4 Steps for Effective ‘Feedback’

Here’s how Ravi used the four steps.

  1. State Your Observation: “I see that you took the initiative to get the new project rolling by talking with the team about roles today.”
  2. Acknowledge What’s Working: “Your initiative is a valuable asset that’s been very helpful toward achieving our team’s results.”
  3. Be Candid: “You might not realize that it’s my role to announce new projects to the team and to initiate the discussion of roles. I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate your initiative and at the same time I want you to be aware of protocols and chains of command, especially as you move up in your career.”
  4. Involve: “How can I best support you in this?”

Ravi helped Chris see what needs to be adjusted without using the words “constructive” and “feedback,” and he thereby decreased the chances of triggering a threat response. This increases the likelihood that his direct report will make the change.

Question: What do you think — is it easier to get the best from people by taking ‘constructive feedback’ out of the conversation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com/Beatriz Gascon J

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