Workplace Issues

The Art of Giving Feedback Without Criticising A Colleague

Written by mrafeeq · 4 min read >

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Giving feedback is very important in improving a lot of things. For example, excellent and honest feedback can help turn things around and help employees improve the way they work in a workplace. But, unfortunately, not everyone can give input effectively without hurting other people’s feelings.

The term “constructive criticism” has become synonymous with bashing or even putting somebody down. It is as if the term allows anyone to say something terrible in the guise of being “constructive” or helpful. However, not knowing how to provide feedback effectively can result in demoralisation and resentment. At times, it may even lead to arguments or internal conflicts which are counter-productive.

Here are some helpful tips to help you develop the skill of providing effective feedback without the other person feeling criticised:

1. Self-check

Before you say a word to another person, examine yourself first. What is your motivation in providing the feedback? It is essential to know what drives you to provide feedback. A failed project, for example, is an excellent reason to talk with the employees concerned. However, if you are driven by frustration or anger because the project did not succeed, then you need to step back first and rein your emotions.

2. Establish what you want to achieve

What do you want to achieve at the end of your feedback session: is it only to get rid of your emotions, or do you want the other person to learn from the experience? Making your goal clear will help you keep your conversation focused on what needs to be improved rather than on whom to blame.

3. Put your feedback in a context

Feedback must be given to another person within a context. For example, if a botched job causes the input, talk about the importance of the task and how it affects the individual, co-workers, and even the company itself.

A context will focus the feedback on “what could we have done better” to achieve the objective, rather than “what you did wrong” that’s why we failed.

4. Deal with the facts and don’t jump to conclusions

Discuss what happened and not your decision about a person because of what happened. For example, you asked an employee to submit a report at the end of the day, but you received the news the following morning. In this case, the message was submitted late; the employee is incompetent because he presented the information late.

When you immediately jump to a conclusion, you are already making a judgment. For example, asking the person why he was late in submitting the report (fact) will elicit an entirely different reaction than telling him he’s incompetent (conclusion).

5. Ask and listen

Everything happens for a reason, and asking the concerned individual for their viewpoint will give you a better perspective of the problem. Of course, you already know that there was something wrong, but what caused it sometimes go beyond your perception of the reason for failure.

Going back to the report example, asking the employee what contributed to the delay in submitting the report will pinpoint the challenges s/he might have encountered while performing the task. For example, you might have been vague about the instructions you provided, and the employee lacked the initiative to ask for clarifications.

In that case, the feedback will focus on developing the employee’s confidence and initiative to ask questions when needed instead of submitting the report on time.

6. Choice of word

The wrong word choice will cause resentment even if your intentions are pure. This is the reason why you need to keep your emotions out of the way when you provide feedback. Negative emotions often elicit negative comments. For example, “You’re incompetent” is meaner than saying, “You’re not performing to the best of your abilities”. The first comment sounds like a final judgment on a person’s character, while the second one acknowledges that things need improvement.

7. Move forward-together

Don’t give feedback just for the sake of giving one. The ultimate result of providing feedback is for the receiving person to improve. On that note, you and the person you are talking with must develop actionable plans about the “pain points” you have discussed. There must be an individual action plan and a set of resolutions that you will work on together.

There will be times that you won’t agree on the feedback, but in this case, focus more on what steps to take next. For example, if management says your work performance is unsatisfactory and requires improvement. At the same time, you believe it’s already at par with everyone else’s standards of excellence, discuss how to present yourself in the subsequent performance evaluation. Of course, management will not change its mind, but you can continually improve your presentation skills in this case.

How feedback can help improve the workplace.

One of the most effective ways to enhance work performance is by giving and receiving constructive feedback that focuses on what employees do right instead of wrong. Negative criticism might hurt an individual’s self-confidence, which will affect their overall productivity in return.

On the other hand, honest and constructive feedback helps employees improve their performance from a time-to-time basis. It also boosts morale because people feel that they are doing something right instead of being criticised all the time.

People who receive positive criticism will try harder to achieve more success in everything they do. But, at the same time, those who get negative comments might lose their passion for working and will most likely look for better opportunities elsewhere.

What is the difference between facts and conclusions?

Facts include details that can be observed or measured, while a conclusion, on the other hand, provides information based on the evidence presented through facts. For example, “You’re late in submitting your report again” is a fact, while judging the employee for this mistake without specific evidence will be considered an opinion.

What does it mean if someone asks you to “put yourself in their shoes”?

It means that they want you to understand and empathise with their side of things, especially when sharing your perspective might not have been well-received.

An example of constructive criticism?

Yes, it is the kind of feedback that focuses on what employees do right instead of wrong. It helps improve work performance and morale in general because people know when they are doing something correctly. On the other hand, negative comments might harm an individual’s self-confidence and work performance.

What does it mean if someone says, “that’s just my opinion”?

It means that they are not trying to convince others of their perspective. Instead, they want you to know what is on their mind but would like people to take it with a grain of salt.

How can feedback be positive?

Feedback should always have the focus on what employees do right instead of wrong. It helps improve work performance and morale in general because people know when they are doing something correctly. On the other hand, negative comments might hurt an individual’s self-confidence and work performance.

If feedback is given to punish, criticise or humiliate a person, then it’s not feedback. It’s just plain and straightforward criticism. There are different ways to provide feedback so you can avoid harming your colleagues. With the right mindset, feedback will effectively improve a person’s work performance and teamwork skills rather than tearing them down.

Feedback is always welcome in the workplace. But, when it is given with a mindset to criticise and humiliate an individual, that’s not going to help improve work performance or teamwork skills. Instead, it will only break people down into nothingness instead of making them better versions of themselves.

A collaborative action plan will make the person receiving the feedback feel that s/he is valued and that s/he will not be left alone to find the ways to be better. Again, ask the question, “What can we do better the next time?”

Giving feedback is an art form-when done correctly, it can build harmonious working relationships within the office. Therefore, it is essential to keep an active workforce conscious of what they are doing while staying motivated to get things done the right way.

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