A few years ago, my manager asked me for product screenshots of our latest release. I didn’t understand why he wanted them, but I prepared a document with screenshots and gave it to him. After several minutes, he came to me and said, “I’m disappointed with the quality of the work you sent me because it doesn’t match your potential.”
His feedback made me reflect on my work instead of becoming angry or defensive. I wanted to know more. Since that day, I have tried to make sure I understand the expectations ahead of time so the quality of my work aligns with my managerial expectations.
Critical feedback with a genuine intention of helping can change someone’s life forever. That’s what happened to me.
One of the biggest traits that differentiates great leaders from bad ones is their ability to give feedback. Great leaders help people grow, whereas bad leaders diminish them.
In this article, you will learn about constructive criticism, how it differs from negative criticism, and strategies for giving and receiving it.
Table of contents
- What is constructive criticism?
- Constructive criticism in the workplace
- Situation, behavior, impact framework
- Common mistakes when giving feedback
- How to receive feedback
What is constructive criticism?
Constructive criticism is a feedback technique that aims to help a person grow by focusing on what’s wrong as an opportunity for growth. This type of feedback addresses the situation, as opposed to the person. Managers should focus on specific details to close any potential knowledge gaps and help your team members understand how they can improve in the future.
On the other hand, negative criticism is unhelpful and comes from a place of judgment. Team members often receive negative criticism as a personal attack and can cause your relationship to deteriorate. Because of this, this type of criticism hurts performance.
Constructive criticism in the workplace
To better understand constructive criticism, let’s look at an example of different types of feedback in the workplace.
Let’s say you’re a team lead and you’re about to sign a new customer, which will change your business forever. You need to have a demo with your customer of what your product can do for them.
To get the job done, you assign your most experienced team member. You both agree on the expected results and delivery window.
Time passes by and your team member starts ghosting you. But then, the delivery date comes, and you’re told that the team needs more time and it cannot meet your expectations.
Below are two approaches for how you could handle this situation:
- Negative criticism — “Are you out of your mind? I gave you a deadline, and I told you this is our chance, and you’re screwing up. I’m sure you were not doing the work the way I told you to. And now, you bring me the bad news, and I’m left to clean the mess. Thanks for your bad work.”
- Constructive criticism — “I’m truly disappointed with this situation. When we talked about expectations and the delivery window, you committed to it. So I trusted you. I also tried to offer help, but got no reply from you. And today, you bring bad news. My hands are tied, and I feel powerless. We’re about to lose this contract. What can we do here?”
Here, negative criticism attacks the person and offers no room for a solution. Instead, use positive criticism to make the situation and impacts clear, while creating a path to move forward.
Situation, behavior, impact framework
To provide valuable feedback, you need a structure that you can adapt to any situation. A concise format that delivers feedback to team members in a clear and digestible way will allow you to move forward and improve the performance of your team.
I’ve tried some formats. Some worked, and some didn’t. Let me share what works best for me.
Imagine a new colleague joined the team, but nobody invited her to eat lunch with them. She’s feeling bad about it, and you notice.
In this case, you can utilize a feedback approach of situation, behavior, and impact.
You could go up to one of the team members and share, “A new team member joined and she’s having lunch alone (situation).You work together, but you didn’t invite her for lunch (behavior). Now, she’s upset (impact).”
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I like this format the best. It outlines the situation and allows everyone involved to understand from the impacted person’s perspective.
Common mistakes when giving feedback
Giving feedback is challenging. You can easily fall into traps and miss a development opportunity for your team. Here are the most common mistakes when giving feedback:
Great feedback is actionable. Time is of the essence to reach that. When you give feedback too late, nothing can be done, but when you provide it promptly, it’s possible to evolve faster and change the course of action
You may interpret why someone did something, but that’s an accusation because you don’t actually know. Feedback needs to be based on observation, not an accusation. Focus on what you and everyone around you can observe, not what you interpret
Keep it as specific as possible. When you say, “Your work is bad,” it’s a generalization, and not productive. Instead, say something like, “Your last deliverable had mistakes like X, Y, and Z. That lowered the quality and credibility.”
Providing solutions during feedback isn’t helpful. When you provide feedback, allow the person time to process and accept it first. Then, let the person come to a solution on their own, instead of forcing one on them
Praise in public and criticize in private. People tend to digest feedback better in private spaces where others aren’t watching them
How to receive feedback
Receiving feedback is just as important as giving it. When someone gives you feedback, assume they want to help you improve. No matter how harsh the words may sound, don’t fight, and remain curious.
Curiosity is the secret to receiving feedback. It lets you keep an open mind and avoid defensiveness. Let me give you a real example that I received the other day.
I saw someone say in response to my article, “This post is one of the worst things I’ve ever read in my life. It’s nonsense and pointless.”
When I first read that, I got angry and offended, but then I thought there might be something to learn, and answered, “Sorry to read that. Would you mind sharing what made you perceive this post like that?”
After my question, the person dropped me a private message saying, “I disliked when you called backlog managers a trap because that’s what I do, and I think I bring value with that. You triggered me with your strong words.”
From this, I learned that tone of voice can hurt people and that I should be more cognizant of the way I deliver my message.
Ask clarifying questions to disarm and work towards an understanding. Try asking:
- Could you give me an example?
- Could you share the exact situation with me?
- Would you mind sharing what you expected from me?
Giving and receiving feedback is an art. Once you can master it, success and growth are ahead of you.
Inviting people to give you feedback to better understand your potential.
When providing feedback, remain objective. Don’t accuse people. Help them reflect and maintain a genuine interest in watching them grow.
Featured image source: IconScout
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