How to give corrective feedback

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark

Corrective feedback can make or break our personal or professional relationships. It is very common for us to prefer compliments to criticism as criticism is often perceived as negative and unfavourable. However, there is a difference between criticism and constructive criticism. Harsh criticism often leads to defensive reactions that cloud people’s perceptions and dampen their motivation. When we criticise someone openly, pass judgments or make personal comments, it undermines the effort and hard work they put into achieving their objectives. This does not mean that we never can give corrective feedback, but we need to learn the art of doing it correctly. Sometimes we may have the right intentions but giving advice inappropriately may do more harm than good. It takes practice to develop this ability and is one of the defining feature of an effective leader to help people they lead to become better at their role and facilitate career growth.

Constructive or corrective feedback is a key skill in employee management, leading teams and in guiding them towards productive outcomes. Even though giving feedback is one of the most important part of every workplace or business organisations in today’s work culture, most of the times it’s rarely given with the level of detail or right intention to help and frequency that is needed and many fail to hone corrective feedback skills. Part of effectively managing is to know what feedback to give and how to give it constructively so that it can add value to personal or professional growth. If it is grounded in negativity, it creates a negative environment where people feel disengaged and discouraged.

What is constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is when a person provides a meaningful feedback based on observation to promote a positive change in other persons productivity, performance or behaviour. It is offered with the aim of helping someone to grow, improve and get better at things and is a healthy blend of praise for achievement and includes suggestions to improve. Such feedback reinforces positive behaviours and boosts others’ performance and helps to do away with negative behaviours.

On the other hand, destructive feedback like passing rude judgments or criticising an employee by calling them amateurs or incompetent will reduce their morale and motivation. Constructive feedback includes positive remarks on correct actions and methods to ensure their practice and aims to avoid failed attempts in the future by criticising unproductive means and methods. Since it lies somewhere between praise and criticism, corrective is the best kind because it occupies the middle ground. According to a study conducted, employees prefer corrective feedback from their seniors over straight praise or no feedback at all.

Corrective feedback vs Productivity

People seldom refuse help, if one offers it in the right way.”– A.C. Benson

Appropriately delivered correcting feedback always improves productivity. A honest and meaningful feedback,

• Motivates people to perform better and improves individual morale when you use facts, examples for improvement and statistics to substantiate both positive and negative.

• Creates positive workplace environment, Improves employees self-awareness and reduces confusion regarding expectations.

• Improves communication, focus and results when it is specific and is straight to the task involved.

• Since people make decisions based on their perceptions, timely and corrective feedback provides them with different perspectives and helps in proper utilisation of resources.

• When you focus only on strengths, you lull people into believing there are no areas in which they need to improve. Constructive feedback which involves both positive and negative fosters necessary improvement.

• Positive feedback is a form of recognition and creates opportunities within the organisation for their career advancement and objectives.

• It leads to job satisfaction and connects them to the bigger purpose of ‘why’ and importance of their role in the workplace.

How to give corrective feedback

For feedback to be effective, it must have a purpose. It can be to analyse a recent problem to prevent it from recurring or about the role played by an individual, to provide clear idea about what they are doing right and what/ where they need to do better. Effective feedback requires reason and credibility and is not to just list something under areas for improvement. It is to support productive behaviours and to shift mindset from problem-oriented to solution-oriented. Here are some tips to keep your feedback constructive and productive.

Use descriptive language

Be aware that the words you use are subject to interpretation and the message you send is what is actually being received by the employee. The best feedback is from your personal perspective. You can avoid blaming and accusing by starting your sentence with ‘I thought..’ or ‘I observed..’ and express yourself with concern and care. Avoid using evaluative language like ‘right/wrong’ ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘must’ or ‘need to’ as it sounds like you are preaching and that he or she did something wrong and does not offer any guidance on where they went wrong. Using words like ’never’ ‘all’ and ‘always’ will make them defensive. Like, “The idea will never work” or “you are always interrupting.” Instead, provide a framework for conversations to discuss improvement.

Be supportive and not superior

Be sure you are not coming off overly aggressive. Take a moment to make sure that any unconscious bias you have towards this person is not clouding your judgment of the situation. Focus mainly on your findings and observations rather than other people’s views. Completely avoid phrases like, ‘If I were you…’ ‘you always..’and ‘everyone has mentioned/ noticed that..’ of your never..’ When you’ve observed the behaviour you want to recognise, make sure to describe it with enough detail to make your feedback meaningful and give it ‘do more of that’ direction. Make it an interactive session for problem-solving. Ask for input and ideas to make sure you aren’t focusing on the wrong problem.

Keep it precise and specific.

To be effective, be specific. Have key points available so as to accurately correct their actions. Being vague will lead to confusion and to potential errors in future. Make sure your feedback is clear, to the point and is not exaggerated. For instance, if you give a feedback about a person as he/she acted unprofessionally, it leaves room for confusion, was the person too loud, too casual, poor behaviour or poor communication skills? Discuss the impact of specific behaviour, action or issue. No matter how you deliver your feedback, too much of it will be overwhelming and confusing. Select two to three main points to offer your feedback on instead of saving up all negatives for one conversation. This way, your feedback is welcomed as valuable advice and not as a barrage of complaints. Tell the person exactly what he needs to improve. Stick to facts, so there is no ambiguity.

Create an action plan and follow up for progress

If you are providing constructive feedback, you need to provide actionable insights for improvement. Set clear and attainable and tangible objectives to work toward. This will give them a chance to reflect and create awareness about what enables them to succeed in the current situation and what they want to achieve next. Instead of seeing only a part of your team’s work, be aware of the whole situation to understand what the real issue is. After the feedback, they should have a clear direction to follow. Focus on bring more objective. This tells the recipient the key problem areas and why they are problem areas and specific places where they appear. The subjective opinions aren’t helpful, instead, state specific things that are actionable. This requires measuring accomplishments. Discuss what is working and what isn’t working and that which needs to be corrected. Schedule follow up meetings to focus on the corrective actions being taken.

Don’t base your feedback on assumptions.

When providing feedback, do so with what you know as fact. For instance, “The speech was average. The speaker appeared nervous and amateur.” The assumption that the speaker was nervous because he was new to public speaking is not necessarily true. Inferences are the assumptions and opinions that we formulate about a person. Whereas observations are objective. If someone has made the same errors several times, tell them specifically what the error is, and where it was in. Ask them if they are aware of the error and why it is happening rather than assuming the reason behind it.

Give timely feedback.

Corrective feedback has to be given routinely and regularly. When an event triggers a need for feedback, provide it as quickly as possible (but not in the heat of the moment). Timely feedback allows you to address issues more effectively and it doesn’t leave employees feeling blindsided. The best is that which is immediate and actionable. If you find your team or people you are managing are lagging behind, don’t wait for the review time to let them know that they need to make things better. Delaying immediate feedback could make them complacent and may have little or no effect later. It’s much easier to provide feedback about a single one-hour job that hasn’t been done properly than it is to do so about a whole year of failed one-hour jobs. Whether it is daily, weekly or monthly, when feedback is done regularly, it doesn’t make recipients feel singled out.

Listen well and provide suggestions

Your feedback should be to improve the situation and the message you send should be that you want to help thr person grow and develop. Because of the hierarchy or superiority, the limited view of other’s performance can lead to bias, as a result you tend to ignore, distort and overlook certain details related to their work. Feedback which is heavily imposed can result in resistance to change. When necessary, ask them for their perspective, What is your reaction to this? or is this fair representation of your work? What needs to be changed according to you? Listen actively and offer some suggestions for improvement. This way, they have an opportunity to own the solutions and will be more likely to follow through them.

Use the feedback sandwich method

This is a popular method of giving constructive feedback. First, you can focus on the strengths, then you provide areas of improvement or those that are not up to the mark and lastly, you can round off with positive comments that are actionable. For instance, “your product is user friendly, accessible and quite helpful. However, too many instructions clutters the user experience. Perhaps you can narrow down to key things so, it would be easier to follow them. Secondly, more features can be added to make it more applicable. Overall it is a good one and can be used in many applications. I like the design and colours you have used.” Rounding off the criticism with more positives reminds what he or she is doing right and reinforces the benefits of acting on your feedback.

Don’t make it personal

Detach the person from the behaviour, situation or action and comment on the problem at hand rather than the person. For instance, ‘salt is on a higher side in your dishes’ rather than ‘you are a bad cook.’’Your report is not on time’ and not ‘you are careless.’ Avoid making accusatory personal comments like , ‘you are lazy/ negative/boring or unorganised.’ Suggest changes in their working style or approach that may be the cause. Explain the effect the issue had in order not to make it personal. Focus on understanding the situation, fixing it and avoiding it happening again.

Before giving corrective feedback, ask yourself:

Am I the right person to give corrective feedback?

Do I have the right motive – Is my purpose behind giving this feedback is to improve the situation?

Do I know the right way to give corrective feedback – Is my approach positive and constructive?

Am I being personal/overly critical/harsh or offensive – How can I convey in a more fair and balanced way?

Is my feedback helping them to correct or come up with solutions?

How specific and precise is my feedback?

How can I support high performance and align with individual strengths and achievements?

To conclude,

So, whom have you recently helped through your feedback and what difference did it make in your work and theirs?

Constructive feedback is challenging in a way that it has to be delivered carefully and frequently and takes practice. Next time you offer your feedback about a person or situation, follow thee simple strategies to keep ii a healthy mix of positive and corrective comments with specific ideas on how to improve. Feedback need not be always intimidating, negative, demoralising or disheartening. When you make a conscious choice to give constructive feedback on a regular basis, it paves way for personal improvement, problem-solving and change. And it does make your workplace or personal or professional relationships much more harmonious, positive and productive.

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