What is the difference between negative and constructive feedback?
Feedback is not always positive (nor should it be) but there are core differences between constructive feedback and plain, harmful criticism. Shortly put, one will motivate employees to do better; the other will generate frustration and resentment.
Through constructive feedback, a review of someone's individual performance is complemented with solutions to work on bettering skills and behaviors. The focus is on learning, development and offering support to achieve new goals; it is never personal or offensive.
On the other hand, negative or destructive feedback leaves employees feeling demotivated, even emotional or angry. While it explicitly points out what's wrong, it doesn’t try to gain any perspective on why performance might be low, it doesn’t propose solutions, and it won’t open a safe dialogue to brainstorm ideas. Needless to say, the more destructive the critique, the less driven employees will be to change, develop, and ultimately grow.
The unlisted job skill leaders must have
Offering feedback comes with any managerial or leadership position, but such a requirement is rarely written in the job description. Emotional and heated situations can happen; after all, it's not easy to listen to someone pointing out mistakes and areas for improvement. Inexperienced managers might not feel secure enough to deliver bad news appropriately or might not be equipped to deal with challenging reactions.
Therefore, it's paramount for senior leaders to develop a positive and constructive feedback culture to help managers and team leaders overcome awkward situations and provide them with the tools for success. Fostering a good feedback culture at work can radically reduce the fear of critique, even turning it in a welcomed and positive experience.
Why a constructive feedback culture is crucial
If we want employees to achieve their goals, grow in their position, and become more fulfilled at work, we must thoroughly understand how their work impacts both their colleagues and the business at large. If a good feedback culture is not in place, both leaders and employees might lack the groundwork needed for the trust and healthy communication that conclusively enables honest and well-received criticism. Toxic communication and negative criticism can only create more dread and suspiciousness around the process.
With a constructive feedback culture, employees are less likely to be on constant alert for negativity and are more likely to stay on track instead. It creates a better connection between colleagues, drives organizations to meet theirs goals and, ultimately, helps to keep employees engaged, improving the retention rate.
5 tips to give constructive feedback
As a starting point, follow these five tips to learn how to give (and take) constructive feedback.
#1: Offer Legitimate Positive Feedback
Managers will often use praise to counterbalance a more difficult critique. And although that's a common and welcomed practice – after all, it allows us to see some positive sides in a challenging situation – it can degrade the value of simply complimenting a team member's hard work. Try and offer genuine positive feedback on its own and stop there. Every employee is capable of amazing work and deserves a compliment for their skills. Praising their efforts and recognizing their strengths, for example, is an excellent place to start.
#2: Offer Solutions
Promoting a good feedback work culture means caring for employees and it should motivate them to move in a positive, productive, direction. However, to do this, leaders must make sure that every critique is followed by – if not focused on – solutions. While criticism can be highly emotional and charged with frustration, constructive feedback offers solutions – or, at the very least, provides an invitation to discuss them. It must explain the reasons behind and lay the path to fix them.
#3: Take Time to Process the Feedback
When we take the appropriate time to process our emotions, we can embrace criticism instead of becoming defensive. If you have to deliver bad news, take some time to work on what you have to say and make sure to clarify the actions, behavior, or communication that led to the critique. On the other hand, being the receiver of critique can also be unpleasant. Before reacting, it's essential to sit with one's thoughts and only then engage in dialogue.
#4: Keep It Private
To avoid unpleasant situations and make feedback a more comfortable process for the team, set up private meetings with the specific person who will receive the critique – whether it’s regular praise or a performance review. Creating a safe environment for constructive feedback allows employees to come forward without fearing negative repercussions or losing their jobs. It encourages honesty and ensures their voices are heard.
#5: It's OK to Postpone It
The reason employees might be reactive to critiques and taking them personally is because they’re not ready to discuss them. When a company promotes the well-being of its employees, there’s a ‘it’s OK to say no’ policy in place which employees are welcomed (and encouraged) to make use of. Of course, that doesn't mean feedback should be avoided at all costs – just delivered when both parties are willing, open and ready to discuss the topics at hand.
To establish a strong and thriving feedback culture for yourself and your organization, try Sharpist, the outcome-driven platform for people development powered by 1:1 digital coaching and personalized learning.