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Three Tips on Giving Effective Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback is the technique of reviewing sub-standard performance without making people feel bad. It can be summarised as: praise the worker, criticise the work. Here are 3 tips on how to give constructive feedback that encourages more good performance and improves not-so-good performance.

1. Time Your Feedback

How effective feedback is often depends on when you give it. Feedback that is detailed and requires discussion is always best given while memories are fresh and clear. So, do it soon after the event. But you also need to notice how open the person on the receiving end is.

Don't give feedback when the person is...
· preoccupied
· emotionally worked up, either on a high or on a low
· reliving something from the recent past.

Do give feedback when the person...
· has a need
· is open and willing to learn
· is mentally still
· is looking for feedback.

2. Praise the Worker, Criticise the Work

You should never aim critical feedback at the person, only at their work. People are not what they do. They can change behaviour and performance but they can't change who they are. Here are the key steps in giving constructive feedback after an employee's performance in a critical incident.

1. agree what the aims of the get-together are.
2. ask the employee what they think about their performance. Alternatively, start by asking the employee to say what for them went well and then ask them to say what for them didn't go so well.
3. underline anything you agree with. If the employee recognises the need to improve, ask him or her what he would like to do.
4. state your own views about what went well and what could be improved.
5. repeat the overall positive aspects of the performance and close on a high note.

3. Constructive Feedback from Lincoln to Hooker

The following letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Major General Hooker was written on January 26th 1863 during the American Civil War. It is a classic example of a written performance appraisal containing in varying amounts...
· praise
· recognition
· identification of strengths and weaknesses
· criticism of unhelpful behaviour
· offers of help
· expression of renewed confidence
· assertiveness in tackling difficult areas.

"General, I have placed you at the head of the Army. I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet, I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied.
I believe you to be a brave soldier which of course I like. You have confidence in yourself which is a valuable, if not an indispensable, quality. But I think that during General Burnside's command, you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most honourable brother officer.
I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army of criticizing their commander will now turn upon you.  I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down.
And now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward and give us victories."

Constructive feedback works because while behaviour can be changed, personality can't. It is one of the most valuable skills that managers can learn. It satisfies people's needs to know how they're doing. It delivers review in an upbeat, non-judgmental way that people can accept. It builds people's confidence to do better.