Five Steps to Constructive Feedback

Posted by Todd Smith

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Think of the last time you saw a young toddler taking his or her first steps. Most likely Mom or Dad was standing right there, ready to help. When she tripped or leaned a little too heavily to one side, she was gently steadied and put back on course for the next step.

Believe it or not, constructive feedback involves much the same process of careful, consistent course correction. While the benefits of receiving constructive feedback are rather well known—improved performance, a shorter learning curve, and personal growth—the benefits of giving good constructive feedback are not as widely recognized.

Specifically, when you show someone that you care by taking the time to give constructive and supportive feedback, it’s natural for them to care more about you as well as take a greater interest in your relationship.

Keep in mind that although constructive feedback is most often associated with parenting and job performance, other situations such as business-to-business inter-actions, mentor/mentee relationships, and personal friendships can benefit as well.

In yesterday’s post you learned that praise should always be given in public and criticism in private. Today as we look at the proper ways to give constructive feedback, you will see the importance of following that advice.

The R.I.G.H.T. Way to Give Feedback

A helpful way to remember the essentials of good feedback is to remember five specific letters—R.I.G.H.T. Let’s take a look at what each letter stands for.

1. Respectful.  Showing respect for the other person is a fundamental principle for delivering any type of message, but it’s especially important when it comes to giving feedback. If people believe you don’t respect them, they probably wouldn’t listen to what you have to say.

One way to show respect is to ask permission to provide feedback. One of the questions I always ask those I coach or employ is, “If I see ways in which you can improve your performance, what would you like me to do?” In 100% of the cases, they’ve said, “I would like you to tell me.”

When I see things important enough that need correction, I begin by saying, “Maria, you told me you wanted me to tell you when I noticed things that you could do to improve your performance.” Then in a respectful way, I share with her how she can improve her results and enhance her market value.

As the relationships deepen and people begin to value my feedback, I just give my feedback in a caring manner without tiptoeing around. They know I want the best for them, so they are always open to hearing the little things they can do to improve.

If you have not asked for permission in advance, you could say, “Would you be open to hearing some feedback on your report?” Asking permission won’t take much time and goes a long way to communicate your respect for the other person’s time and efforts.

2. Issue specific. The key point here is keep your feedback message centered on the performance or issue that needs to be corrected—not the person or personality. It’s very easy for an individual who is receiving feedback to become defensive, so do your best to stay focused on the specific performance aspect that needs to be improved.

3. Goal oriented. Remember, the objective of constructive feedback is to improve performance. By including a discussion of goals in your feedback, you provide something practical and constructive to focus on.  In working with entrepreneurs who are building their businesses, I remind them of their goals and help them see how they will be more likely to achieve them if they make the refinement I am suggesting.

If you are in management, the goals could include those of the company, department, team, or project. You could also remind your people that when they do the little things to get better, they are increasing their value to the company and to the market place.

4. Helpful. When giving feedback, you are in a position to help someone become better in some way. As much as possible, ensure a helpful tone and show your support by recognizing the person’s efforts.  If you are always pointing out the good things people do and encouraging them, they will be more open to hearing your constructive feedback.

5. Timely. Feedback is most valuable when it is delivered as soon as possible while the event or performance issue is fresh in everyone’s mind. Business and life move at a pace that seems to always be increasing. In order for your feedback to have a real impact, it needs to be fresh and relevant.

Bonus Tip: Ask questions such as, “How do you feel you did on this project?” or “How do you think you could have performed at a higher level?”

Often times when people analyze their own actions, they will see the things they need to do to improve. Self-discovery is a great practice for people to engage in. I have always found that results are better if people discover what they need to do rather than for me to tell them.

Lastly, let me suggest that when giving any type of feedback that could hurt someone’s feelings to be sure to include some positive statements.  Your goal is to help them, not hurt them.

Giving constructive feedback is a skill that managers and leaders practice and work hard to perfect. I hope you’ll see the importance of these key principles and feel confident that you can deliver better feedback the next time you are presented with the privilege to do so.

Will you do a favor for all of us as part of the Little Things Matter community?  Will you take the time to share any tips that have helped you when giving people feedback?  I am sure we can all learn from your experience.

Taking the time to give constructive feedback with respect will help others be the best that they can be.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.

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