Take it like a Pro: 11 Tips for Giving and Receiving Constructive Feedback

by Tom Ewer 5 Minutes

Giving and receiving feedbackWhether we like it or not, there are times in our careers when we have to face feedback.

For many, hearing the words “Can I give you some feedback?” strikes fear and anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Feedback should be constructive. It should be based on factual observations that aim to improve the task at hand and assist your colleagues.

To help make both giving and receiving feedback a positive and proactive experience, we’ve listed some of our top tips below. Enjoy!

When Giving Feedback

1. Get to the Point

When giving feedback, many people will start with a positive in an attempt to soften the blow. While this might seem like a kind gesture, it can actually dilute the overall message and leave the recipient feeling confused and even patronized.

To avoid this, just get straight to the point. To mentally prepare the recipient, begin by asking if they are open to hearing feedback, then dive straight in with the facts. They will appreciate being treated as a professional and will also gain a clearer understanding of what needs to be changed.

2. Don’t Waste Time

It’s not uncommon for feedback to be put off for days, weeks or even months; until it absolutely has to happen. By this point the recipient will probably be focusing on something else, meaning the task at hand will not be fresh in their mind.

To avoid having to rely on memory, don’t be bound by set review cycles or put feedback off. Instead, give feedback as soon as possible. Not only will the recipient be expecting the feedback, their mind will also be far more focused on the topic.

3. Focus on the Facts

By focusing on the facts, you are keeping your feedback as objective as possible. Basically, you aren’t making it personal.

To avoid offending the recipient, be sure to offer feedback that focuses on specific behavior and consequences, not on the actual person or any generalized behavior.

For example, instead of generalizing that the recipient has bad spelling and grammar, point out that they need to review the spelling and grammar in their recent document, as it didn’t quite reach the standards of other work produced.

4. Offer Suggestions

Whenever possible, offer feedback that includes specific and practical suggestions that the recipient can put into action.

Not only will this ensure that the recipient is making suitable changes, it also shows that you are looking ahead to improvements that can be made to the task and to the recipient.

For example, instead of just telling the recipient that a piece of work hasn’t been researched thoroughly enough, also suggest relevant websites for them to check out for a fuller understanding of the topic.

5. Be Positive

Even the most confident of us need to receive positive feedback every now and again, so try to give at least as much positive feedback as you do negative.

Not only does this improve professional relationships, it also ensures that the recipient is in a positive frame of mind when receiving constructive feedback.

For example, if a colleague is consistently performing well, don’t take it for granted. If they have worked particularly hard on a project, acknowledge that and point out how their hard work has impacted you positively. This will help them to see that their work is being recognized and that they are an important asset.

6. Do it in Person

It’s easy for an email or a note to be misinterpreted; it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. And that is why giving feedback face to face is so important.

Sending feedback via any other way can come across as being dismissive or uninterested. But it can also be near-impossible to gauge the tone of such a message, making it very easy to offend or upset the recipient.

When giving face to face feedback you are not only showing that you care, but you can affect the way the feedback is delivered, such as in a relaxed and approachable way. This will put the recipient in a much better mindset to discuss your feedback, making it as productive a process as possible.

When Receiving Feedback

1. Pause for a Moment

When receiving feedback, we often want to defend ourselves or justify our actions. This is perfectly natural.

However, it is important to remember that you always have a choice in how you react. So pause for a moment, consider the feedback and decide how you can respond proactively and positively.

By remaining cool and calm when receiving feedback, you will be able to engage in a far more professional and productive conversation. After all, many people are nervous about giving feedback and will not be looking for confrontation.

If the feedback has angered you, take some time out. Consider discussing the feedback with a colleague, or even having a private rant to get it out of your system. Once you are composed, will be ready can address the feedback in a professional and constructive way.

2. Don’t Take it Personally

It’s easy to take feedback personally, so it’s important to remember that receiving feedback isn’t the same as receiving criticism.

Focus on the facts given in the feedback and how you can improve, then move on. We often dwell on feedback and overlay it with our interpretation of what else it could mean. Is there a hidden message? Does this person dislike you? Are you generally bad at your job?

This thought process is not only unhelpful but often wildly inaccurate. Try to focus on your positive performance and use the facts given in feedback to improve on it.

3. Analyze the Feedback…

It is important that you fully understand any feedback given to you. Skimming through feedback to get the job finished may be tempting, but will not help you in the long run.

Instead, listen carefully to the feedback. Make sure you fully understand what the key issues are and what impact they have, then decide if you agree with them. If you are unsure then try asking an honest colleague or friend for their opinion. After all, feedback can be flawed, so you are perfectly in your right to question it.

4. …Then Learn from the Feedback

When you receive feedback, consider what this tells you about yourself; potential mistakes you are making and areas for improvement. Also consider what it tells you about others, such as how they like work to be conducted and any other personal preferences.

Be sure to note all of this down and include actionable steps. You should revisit these notes regularly to ensure you’re not making the same mistakes again and that you are gradually making improvements.

5. Keep in Touch

Remember, people who give feedback are often just trying to help. This person has taken the time to share feedback with you, so you should take the time to reply.

Acknowledge and thank the person for their feedback while reiterating their concerns; this shows them that you have taken them on board. Don’t be afraid to raise any questions or concerns; after all it is better that you fully understand the feedback if you truly want to improve.

If you feel it necessary then keep the dialogue open. Consider sending back amendments for further feedback or asking for ongoing advice.

In Conclusion

While we may have been giving and receiving feedback for years, it is easy to slip into bad habits. By managing feedback in the right way it removes the negativity associated with it, giving everyone involved the opportunity to grow and improve.

Give feedback regularly and seek feedback in every project. Once feedback has become a habit then it won’t seem quite so scary.

Do you have any hints and tips for giving and receiving professional feedback? Let us know in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: Poeta Drico de Alcântara

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.