Thursday, February 14, 2013

Delivering Constructive Feedback Doesn’t Have to Be Painful

When someone says or does something that causes a problem for you, how do you handle it? If it’s a little thing, you’ll probably overlook it. After all, everyone makes mistakes. If what they’re doing continues to be an issue, though, you need to address it. But how?

There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to give constructive feedback. It’s not the kind of thing you learned how to do in school, so a lot of people aren't skilled at this. What doesn't work:
  • Say nothing and hope the other person figures it out for himself 
  • Repress your feelings for a long time, then blow up 
  • Attack the person by labeling and criticizing with something like, “You’re so sloppy. Why don’t clean up after yourself?” 
The reason these approaches don’t work is because they usually lead to defensive reactions and arguments. The person may shut down and not even hear what you’re trying to say.

When you give feedback the right way, you focus on the behavior, not the person. There’s a simple 4-step process that works well. It helps you stay calm and use language that makes it more likely the person will listen to your message.

1.  Describe the behavior – What specifically is the person doing or not doing?
2.  Share your reaction – how you feel about it
3.  Explain the impact of their actions
4.  State what you’d like this person to do in the future – what you want 

So instead of saying:
“Sharon, that report was full of errors. Don’t ever turn in anything like that again.” 

Try something like this:
“Sharon, the final report you turned in had several typos. I’m concerned because it leaves our clients with a bad impression about the quality of our work and they might decide to take their business somewhere else. Next time, please proofread the document carefully before you send it to me. Will you do that?”

Give the person a chance to respond and commit to making the change. If there are issues to discuss, you've increased the chances of both parties being honest and open. This approach strengthens your relationship with that individual and you can feel good about the way you handled the situation.
"If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet (1749-1832)


  1. I taught that formula from Assertiveness Training in the 70's--to my college students, to pre-service teachers, and to business people in the community through Continuing Education classes. M y students and I even took it to the public schools for 1/2 day workshops in Assertiveness Training. This formula has been modified somewhat in NONVIOLENT COMMUNICATION: A LANGUAGE OF LIFE by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., but it's still timely just as it is, and was the topic of my next blog post scheduled after surgery; reckon I'll re-post yours instead. Thanks, Meredith!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pam. I am not familiar with Rosenberg's book and will check it out. Meanwhile, glad you found the info valuable enough to use on your blog!

  3. Thanks for this post Meredith it confirms the Neuro-logical Levels in NLP - that is addressing the issue at the level of Behaviour rather than Identity and thus preventing people from thinking their Identity has been attacked. Sometimes as well it's good to appreciate that perhaps that the person requires some assistance at the level of Capability to put this Behaviour right. The levels are form the bottom up Environment (where), Behaviour (What), Capability (How), Values and Beliefs (Why) and Identity (Who) with a sixth level that is the wider world of which we are a part. [It can also be that the Behaviour results for a Value or Belief I hold and you don't or vice versa]
    Rosie O'Hara


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