Feedback is the backbone of healthy relationships at work. You can’t expect that colleagues will continue positive behaviors or stop negative actions if you don’t provide consistent feedback at work. Giving feedback, especially constructive feedback, can be difficult. What exactly do you say to your colleagues? How do you make the feedback intentional and actionable? Today we are going to cover constructive feedback and give some examples of it in action.

Here are the four scenarios we will be covering.

1. Giving Constructive Feedback To Direct Reports

2. Giving Constructive Feedback To Colleagues

3. Giving Constructive Feedback To Your Manager

4. Giving Constructive Feedback To Your Colleague’s Direct Reports

What Is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is a form of feedback that focuses on correcting issues you see at work. Maybe your direct reports are always late, or your manager isn’t giving you timely feedback on assignments. You have to be able to stand up for yourself and your needs while staying professional.

Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI)

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the best approach to giving feedback is the SBI approach. We’ve covered SBI on the blog before. We will use that same model to share how to provide constructive feedback to the various people in your company.

Giving Constructive Feedback To Direct Reports

As a manager, you are expected to give feedback to your direct reports often. Some of that feedback will undoubtedly need to be constructive as you work with an employee.

When giving feedback to direct reports, approach the conversation with empathy. Ultimately, you want your employees to get better at their job. Their work is a direct reflection of your job as a manager. Constructive feedback should be timely and useful. Don’t let things boil over, but you also shouldn’t nitpick every small problem.

Scenario: Myra manages Cindy. Lately, Cindy has been arriving late for their weekly marketing meetings. This has caused a problem because it pushes the entire meeting back and makes it challenging for discussions to end on time.

Feedback: Myra shares this feedback with Cindy, “Cindy, we love hearing your voice in the weekly marketing meetings. For the last three marketing meetings(situation), I noticed that you arrived a few minutes late(behavior). This impacts the marketing department because we want you in the meetings, and your late arrival causes us to push the meeting back and end the meetings late (impact).”

The feedback that Myra shared with Cindy is going to help Cindy understand:

  1. Her value to the marketing team.
  2. The impact of her late arrivals on the marketing team.

It’s important to provide constructive feedback that builds your team up instead of tearing them down.

Giving Constructive Feedback To Colleagues

As you work with colleagues, you might notice some stuff that needs to be addressed. Constructive feedback amongst peers on the same level shouldn’t be a problem, but you still need to approach the conversation with the right amount of empathy as you would when providing feedback to direct reports.

Scenario: Tyler notices that Tommie frequently interrupts the female members of the team during all-team meetings. Tyler wants to correct this behavior in Tommie on behalf of the female team members he sees negatively reacting to Tommie’s behavior.

Feedback: Tyler pulls Tommie aside and offers the following feedback: “Tommie, I noticed that you cut Lora off during the meeting this morning. I wanted to put this behavior on your radar because some of the female members of the team have shared that they feel undermined and unappreciated when you cut them off.”

Tyler’s feedback opens up the conversation with Tommie. Pulling your colleagues aside instead of correcting them in front of their manager or direct reports will put them at ease. No one likes being corrected in front of a crowd.

Giving Constructive Feedback To Your Manager

Eventually, you’re going to have to give constructive feedback to your manager. Managing up allows you to create a meaningful relationship with your boss. A manager is a real person who is bound to make a mistake or two. You can’t feel threatened, but you can’t go into the situation aggressively, either. Approach your manager with the same respect that you’d want from someone offering you constructive feedback.

Scenario: Alice’s boss Melanie is delightful to work with, but she has one negative trait: it takes her a while to give proper feedback to Alice. Melanie’s lateness impacts Alice’s ability to get her job done on time.

Feedback: Alice brings this to her boss’s attention with the following statement, “I love working with you on projects, Melanie. For the last few assignments, I noticed how distracted you’ve been with getting feedback to me on time. This impacts the work that I do for the team by making it hard for me to get my work completed on time. Is there anything I can do for you to improve the flow of communication around feedback?”

In this scenario, Alice shares her feelings about getting feedback on time, but she also opens the lines of communication. By asking what she could do to improve the flow, Melanie will know that they are both in it together. Alice isn’t passing on undue stress or blame to Melanie. There is a way for everyone to improve their workflow.

Giving Constructive Feedback To Your Colleague’s Direct Reports

Giving constructive feedback to your colleague’s direct reports is a delicate balance. You may end up working with someone who doesn’t report to you. Those employees need to hear that feedback from you if you have any.

First and foremost, connect with the colleague to see if they’ve already discussed a similar incident. If they have, see where that conversation left off. Base your feedback around that conversation, and add to it gracefully.

Scenario: Harold is working with someone in Troy’s marketing department on a customer service project. Harold notices that Troy’s employee Jared lacks engagement during their initial meeting and that he turns in work later than expected.

Harold doesn’t want to step on any toes, so he has to make a decision: does he provide feedback to Jared, or does he go to Troy?

Feedback: Harold decides to go to Troy to give feedback on working with Jared. “Through my work with Jared, I noticed that he was disengaged in our initial conversation, and he turned in the assignment late. Based on our previous conversation when you assigned Jared to help, I feel he has great potential. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him at his best. Is this something that you have noticed or talked with Jared about before? Could you communicate my thoughts to Jared during your 1:1 to understand what's blocking him and help him strengthen his cross-department collaboration?”

This is a tricky scenario. If you share a good relationship, then you should provide that feedback directly. However, in this case, Harold doesn't know Jared well and feels that Troy might be in position to provide this feedback. Troy can decide how he wants to tackle handling the feedback you shared about Jared. Hopefully in future interactions with Jared, Harold can create a more meaninfful working relationship and provide the feedback directly.

Conclusion: You Can Give Great Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback is a delicate balance. You need to provide honest feedback while ensuring that the person on the other end of that feedback feels valued. Whether you are giving feedback to a colleague or a manager, you can provide great constructive feedback that moves your company forward.