Giving Constructive Feedback

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I am sometimes asked “If there was just one thing that a team could
do to improve its overall performance, what would it be” ?

There is little doubt in my mind: the ability to deliver
and receive personal feedback in a constructive way.

When I run a training session on giving and receiving
feedback, I always ask the following question:

“If you were doing something that was annoying / upsetting /
or just racks others off, and you didn’t know what it was,
would you like to know”?

Having run this session hundreds of times by now, the
answer is always “yes”

So do we always do it? Do we heck!

There are all sorts of things which get in the way.

Reasons I have been given are:

Fear the reaction, which might range from tears to violence

Fear the consequences, especially if I want to tell my
boss something

Fear of losing a friendship, your best friend will seldom
give honest feedback for this reason

Fear of damaging the good working relationship we have
developed over time

But these are only our perceptions, which seldom produce
these reactions in reality, and remember, all people would
like to know!

And we are not just talking about negative feedback,
positive feedback seems to be something that we seldom
give either. Why don’t we do that?

Reasons I have come across are:

It’s not within our culture


We don’t need to tell someone they are doing well…they
will know that themselves!

But when I ask people if they like receiving positive
feedback, they almost always say yes.

So is it possible to learn a technique to overcome
these difficulties?

YES is the answer!

One of the most useful and practical ways I have discovered
(and it works for me) is to try this.

Before delivering some feedback that may be described as
negative, think about something positive that you have
seen the person doing.

For example if you have sat through a presentation that
actually took twice as long as it should have done, going
to someone and just saying it was far too long, is not very

Next, always offer an alternative that they might like to

Deliver the feedback in a structure of:

1. What I liked
2. What I disliked
3. What I might do differently

So the technique in practice might sound like:

I really liked the way you used the different graphics
within your presentation….

What concerned me though was the length of time you
took to complete each section…..

In future can you try to cover the content, but
considerably reduce the amount of time it takes

This is a technique that can be learned, but there is
only one way to learn how to do it effectively –
by delivering it.

Often something happens between what we want to say,
and what we actually say when faced with a real situation
and the person sat in front of us. However, providing
the feedback is genuine, sincere, and meant to help the
recipient improve, by practicing, it will become second
nature to you – trust me I have been practicing and improving
for a good while now!

We also condition people about giving us feedback.

If someone has plucked up courage to give us feedback and
we meet that feedback by being either very defensive about
our actions or aggressive towards them, what are they likely
to do next time? Pretty obvious answer to that!

So how should we respond?

If like me, your natural reaction to negative feedback
can be defensive, no matter how well it is being delivered,
the approach I have learned is simply to say “thank you”
and nothing else at this stage. When the emotions have
subsided, and you appear to be a little more rational in
your thinking, this is the time to go back and ask a few
questions for clarification.

You then have a choice:


Is the feedback valid and could I or should I do something
about it if it is?

Is it just one person’s opinion and not substantiated by
others, in which case I could just set the feedback aside.

But by just saying thank you I have ensured that the
individual won’t be put off from giving me some feedback
in the future.

So try it and practice it – it IS a skill that can be learned
and will definitely improve the relationships and working
practices within your team


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