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5 Guidelines for Providing Tactful Constructive Feedback

How to Give Constructive Criticism

  • Avoid Venting
  • Involve the Individual
  • The Sandwich Technique
  • Focus on Improvement
  • Explain the Feedback

Knowing some guidelines for providing tactful constructive feedback can help make the process more effective. Most people do not enjoy receiving criticism about their work or performance, but delivering that criticism can be almost as difficult. However, there are techniques that can make giving and getting feedback easier.

Related resource: Top 10 Bachelor’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology

1. Avoid Venting

It is important to make feedback focused and specific. Feedback should also generally be delivered in the moment. If it is saved up and delivered in a big chunk, the person can feel overwhelmed. However, delivering feedback in the moment should not turn into micromanaging. Feedback should only be delivered as necessary. The person may have a different approach to completing a task or a project that is equally effective, and this should be recognized by the person who is giving the feedback.

2. Involve the Individual

Many of the leaders surveyed by Forbes on providing constructive feedback made suggestions that involved the person receiving the feedback in the process instead of simply being a passive listener. For example, one suggestion was to ask permission to give feedback first. This gives the person who is receiving the feedback a sense of having some autonomy. Asking the person’s opinion about how the work or performance can be improved can also help. People can also be asked if there are specific things they want to work on getting better at.

3. The Sandwich Technique

Some people may already be familiar with what is sometimes called the “sandwich” approach to giving tactful constructive feedback. This involves saying something positive followed by the negative feedback and ending with the positive again. However, it is important to ensure that this approach does not lead to the person only focusing on the compliments. Discussing ways to improve in the needed area may help ensure that the critical part of the feedback does not get ignored.

4. Focus on Improvement

This focus on improvement is a valuable element of providing tactful constructive feedback. Depending on the context of the feedback, it may be helpful to set specific goals that will indicate improvement. For example, if the person is working on public speaking skills and has said “uh” 15 times in a five-minute speech, the goal might be to only say it once or twice if it all in the next five-minute speech. This focus on improvement also shows confidence in the person and their ability to do better. It means the feedback is delivered in a positive fashion that is focused on doing something well instead of a more punitive atmosphere that makes people feel as though they have simply made too many mistakes. Talking about improvement highlights the fact that feedback is part of the learning process.

5. Explain the Feedback

One error people often make in giving feedback is failing to explain the rationale behind it. This can make feedback seem arbitrary. The person may not know why it matters whether they say “uh” many times in a presentation. Explaining the feedback can also give people the tools to make improvements on their own instead of simply parroting what they have heard.

Some people may view receiving feedback as a painful process, but it does not have to be. With these guidelines for providing tactful constructive feedback, people can be taught how to improve without feeling as though they have done something wrong.