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  • Writer's pictureMegan Robinson

Constructive vs. Unconstructive Feedback

I have been given a lot of terrible feedback in my life. I’m sure you have too. Sometimes it was contradictory, once it was insultingly accusatory, and almost all of the feedback was unclear or confusing

How do you know if the feedback you received was subpar? If you come to the end of a feedback session and have no idea what to do next, that feedback was terrible. Unconstructive feedback gives you no path forward. You don't know what or how to improve!

On the other hand, constructive feedback has the power to inspire growth, improve performance, and strengthen relationships within your team. That's why I'm sharing a few tips to make your feedback more constructive. And if you are receiving feedback, consider these tips on how to turn that unconstructive information into something you can use!

Align expectations

Feedback can often be confusing because both parties are unclear on what the expectations were in the first place. A leader's hidden beliefs and assumptions can surprise or confuse direct reports, making it hard for them to improve. Misaligned expectations can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations.

Before you jump into the meat of a difficult conversation, ask your team member what they understood to be the goal and expectations of the project. If what they report doesn't match what you intended, that's where you can start being constructive.

What were the non-negotiables? What were the boundaries? If those didn't come across clearly to your direct report, how did you communicate them, and what might work better?

This may be just the feedback that YOU needed before you are able to jump into what THEY did.

Now, it's impossible to clearly define every expectation, and even if it were possible, it would be incredibly overwhelming for everyone involved. So for new tasks, start with high-level expectations. Explain how the project should operate, the stakeholders, and how things should be communicated.

You won't get all the expectations out on the table the first time, and that's ok -- by regularly revisiting the assignment and giving feedback often, you can have a solid end product you both can be proud of and build a foundation of experiences your team can grow and learn from.

Make a plan together

Just pointing out flaws is not helpful. As a leader, you must be willing to work with your team to help them improve. Once you align your expectations and agree on what needs improvement, you can both get behind the plan to move forward.

Who will make the updates you discussed? What is expected for next time?

Together, you might find there was a structural reason things weren't meeting expectations you can resolve. And whether it's for specific software, process, or people skill, devoting time to additional training can pay off enormously in the long run.

In your feedback session, create these plans with specific action steps. Practice or brainstorm new behavior. Define milestones, timelines, and measurable outcomes for their improvement, and regularly review progress, provide support, and celebrate achievements along the way.

Embrace Curiosity

One of the most valuable mantras for a leader preparing to provide feedback is "be curious." Influential leaders are willing to challenge their assumptions and be receptive to new insights and perspectives.

When we give feedback, we often assign blame without considering the complete picture. Instead, prioritize curiosity over accusations. Focus on understanding the motivations, intentions, and circumstances behind a team member's actions or behaviors. Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to their responses. This approach promotes empathy and helps build trust.

Remember, mistakes are simply errors, not deliberate actions. And when you can emphasize to your team that these are opportunities for growth, you can create a positive and impactful experience.

Enhancing your feedback-giving skills through coaching can greatly impact your effectiveness as a leader. If you would like to explore how to give better feedback to unlock your team's true potential, let's talk. We can prepare you to inspire, motivate, and empower your team through more constructive feedback sessions.


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