6 Ways to Make Your Constructive Feedback More Welcoming, Productive

October 30, 2017 | David Lee | HCI
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1. When thinking about giving someone feedback, ask yourself first if it would be more productive to start off with “Help me understand…”

This approach can be especially helpful if the feedback will be difficult for the other person to hear.

It is also helpful when the feedback you’re sharing is related to something the other person said or did that bothered you.  Rather than launch into an “It made me really angry when you…” statement, you might want to try a “Can you help me understand where you were coming from…” opener instead. Often, the clarification that arises will change your initial reaction and perspective. It is also a more inviting, less confrontational way to start the conversation.

2. Frame the change you’re looking for in terms of what you want in the future (make it Feed Forward vs. Feedback).

Example: Say, “John, I think the meetings we’ve been having would get a lot more involvement from participants if there was more structure around them, so that people knew the purpose of the meeting and they could stay focused on that purpose,” instead of, “John, the last few meetings you’ve run have been incredibly disorganized and inefficient. I could tell by people’s expressions that they hated every second of the meetings.”

3. Use descriptions and examples as much as possible, and evaluations as little as possible.

Descriptions and examples provide information the person can use; evaluations trigger defensiveness.

Evaluations are terms that evaluate, judge and assess another person.

Descriptions and Examples describe what you saw and heard, not your characterization of it. Descriptions are “sensory based” - based on what people can gather from their senses. When you give examples of what you want or don’t want, you enable the listener to make a movie inside their head about what you’re describing, rather than forcing them to decode your message.


Evaluation Description
“You were disorganized.” “We jumped from topic to topic and often people got off on tangents.”
“It was a very inefficient meeting.” “Much of the material we covered could have been covered in a bullet point memo. We spent half the meeting talking about issues that we can’t do anything about. People didn’t leave with any next steps or direction on what they were supposed to do based on the meeting.” 


4. Use the least amount of power and intensity to get your point across.

You can always increase it if necessary, but it’s hard to erase the impact of a heavy-handed approach.

"Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend's forehead.” - Chinese Proverb

5. Instead of “You need to ___” or “You should ____” try:

  • “Can you…”
  • “What if you tried …”
  • “How about if you…”
  • “It would be helpful if …”

Example: “For our future meetings, could you send people an agenda ahead of time so they can prepare? I think that would help us be more efficient and stay on track.”

6. If you’re giving detailed feedback mixed with recommendations as part of coaching, stop at times and ask questions to give them a breather from having to take in information. Make it conversational rather than a monologue.

Say things like:

  • “Do you have any comments or questions?”
  • “Any thoughts about this/what I’m saying?”
  • “What are your thoughts about this so far?”
  • “Does this make sense or do you see it differently?”
  • “Do you know what I mean?” (note: even though they say “yes” and actually do NOT know what you mean, it’s a simple way to give them a break from having to process information and get a chance to talk.)