Constructive Feedback

feed·back  /ˈfēdˌbak/  (noun)


  1.   information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement (from Oxford)
  2.   clear and specific information that is sought or extended with the sole intention of helping individuals or groups improve, grow, or advance (from Forbes)

For some people, giving or receiving feedback can result in all kinds of physical symptoms of panic – racing heartbeats, shaky hands, hot face, etc. Even though it’s only words, the psychological perception of impending conflict feels like a threat to the human brain and triggers the fight-or-flight response. Therefore, it is often avoided to maintain social relationships, even if it meant no improvement is being made.

But constructive feedback is not optional. When teammates don’t realize how their behaviors, words, and work are affecting others, they can’t improve and overall the team is stagnant. Here is some data to support that:

When lacking feedback… 

  1.   39% of employees report that they don’t feel appreciated
  2.   people are 2x as likely to be disengaged if they are ignored/given no feedback
  3.   4/10 workers are actively disengaged when given no feedback
  4.   98% of people fail to be engaged when given little to know feedback

When given feedback… 

  1.   people are 30x more likely to be engaged when a manager focuses on an employee’s strengths
  2.   43% of highly engaged receive feedback at least once a week
  3.   65% of people want more feedback
  4.   69% of people say they would be more motivated if efforts were better recognized

Given this, we hope that the following tips will help you and your teams work better together!

How to give feedback

Identify the situation and provide potential changes

Feedback should be constructive and actionable – the person receiving it should be offered ideas for improvement. Have a solution or some ideas in mind, rather than just bringing up the problem alone. If you come in without knowing how the person can address the issue, then it becomes a complaint. And does anybody like complaints? Try to leave a feedback session having discussed potential actionable items that can be taken for each piece of feedback.

Start by discussing successes

Positive feedback is still feedback, and should be given! In fact, a study found that the average ratio of positive to negative comments given within a high-performing team was 5.6 to 1 respectively, whereas the worst performing teams had a ratio of 0.36 to 1. Positive feedback helps to prioritize aspects of performance that your team members do well, and encourages them to continue pushing those positives. When you see that a teammate is doing a good job with something, then you definitely want to make sure that they continue doing whatever they are doing!

Find any data or examples to support

When discussing negative feedback, it’s important to make sure that you can back it up with examples of when it happened. Going in with vague pieces of feedback makes it more difficult for the receiver to understand where they could improve, and that could backfire as an unwarranted complaint. 

Give feedback in manageable quantities! 

When detailing potential areas of improvement, focus on the highest impact deltas rather than every single one that you can think of. Quality can be more valuable than quantity! If you give a person too many things to focus on, it becomes difficult for them to actually keep track of all the actions they need to take. Additionally, if a person typically receives positive feedback, occasional negative feedback is more impactful because it prompts a needed change. 

Communicate the level of importance

Sometimes you can run into a situation where you do have a lot of small pieces of feedback about things that could be changed, but they are not critical to the core success of the project. For these situations, it can be super helpful for a person to hear that while there are a lot of small details that might be changed, there is ultimately nothing that needs to be changed.

Be timely

Like comedy, timing is everything. Try to understand when your feedback is most applicable for a given situation. For example, complaining about the pixel by pixel placement in the first iteration of the design is too early. Whereas having misgivings about an event theme the night before the event is probably a little bit too late.

State the purpose of your conversation

While it is tempting to lead the feedback with the problem, you can avoid conflist by explaining your intentions first. Give the context of how that person’s actions has impacted you. Tell them why you want to give a particular piece of feedback before detailing the full feedback itself. You can get into the heart of the conversation quicker this way. 

Feedback is a two-way street

Make it a conversation between two people, rather than a unidirectional nagging. Don’t offer feedback unsolicited, and don’t force things to happen. If a person isn’t receptive to feedback at a certain time, then any attempt to give feedback can be met with hostility, especially if there is not normally any form of feedback given on the team. A way to avoid this is to consider scheduling regular feedback sessions. 

How to receive feedback

Schedule and ask for feedback regularly

Don’t wait for people to bring up criticism, ask for it actively. This prevents the negative feeling of being called out for a problem. While there may still be issues, being intentional with seeking out feedback lets you minimize the amount of issues and can reduce the emotional impacts that they may have.

Look at it from their point of view

Ultimately, make feedback sessions a conversation where you are trying to understand what impact you might be having on the giver. When receiving feedback, be open to talking about the feedback, and asking questions that may pop into your head about them. Often times feedback can come from a difference in perspective, and being able to have a back and forth about perspective and the feedback can be useful for understanding where the giver is coming from, and how you may be impacting them.

Don’t react too quickly

It can be easy to get emotional about feedback towards you and your work, but it can also lead to a more tense escalation if not well-handled. When you have a spike in emotions, take a moment to process them before acting on them. If you do have a heated moment, try to ask to pause on the feedback, and continue it after some time to let emotions settle. 

Repeat back what you understand

It can be easy to mishear or misunderstand another person when they are giving feedback. To prevent a snowballing of misunderstandings, take the time to try to comment on and summarize the feedback so that both you and the giver can resolve some of those misunderstandings.. 

Put judgements aside

Even if you disagree with the feedback, the feedback is still a representation of what the giver feels about you and your work. Don’t necessarily dismiss it immediately, but instead try to take the time to understand why they may perceive things in that way.

Check with others

On the other hand, feedback can be subjective, especially with feedback around working styles. In this case, it can be helpful to ping others about the feedback in order to get a sense of the applicability of the feedback. For example, making jokes around how the project is doomed around one person may cause them stress, whereas the same jokes around other people may not be as big a deal. Determining this will help you figure out how you can work more effectively with each other.

Share your perspective

Your feelings are valid, but it does not invalidate the feedback that was given. It is advantageous to try to figure out what you are feeling, and openly bring it up in conversation with the feedback giver. Vocalizing the reasons behind your feelings helps you figure out your triggers, your demotivators, and can help your feedback giver be able to reframe their feedback in a way that is easier for you to process moving forward.