How often have you heard someone in the workplace say that the feedback they received from their boss or colleague was too specific, too thorough or too insightful? In today’s busy world, having someone give you extensive feedback about your work just doesn’t seem to happen often enough.
So I was surprised to find out that one of my client’s employees was distressed by receiving what she felt was too much feedback on one of her assignments in the online Language Lab course she was taking. She thought the feedback was too detailed and too nitpicky.
Naturally, I spoke with my client to resolve the problem. At the Language Lab, we make a painstaking effort to ensure that the feedback we give to participants in our online courses is constructive and helpful. Of course it’s true that when offering feedback it’s not always possible to accurately gauge a person’s threshold for criticism or desire to improve, especially when you don’t know her or him.
But happily I can say that a response such as this one, that too much feedback was given, is the exception to the rule. Our effort to offer constructive feedback intended to “improve and promote further development or advancement” has otherwise always been commended.
You may recall that in my last blog post, I pointed out it’s always important to communicate without causing offense. But being constructive goes beyond simply being inoffensive. It’s really about helping someone else to move forward and progress in his or her own development. So I thought it would be useful to post some essential tips to help you to deliver feedback that is constructive, meaningful and thorough, whether online or in person.
The Language Lab’s Tips for Offering Constructive Feedback
-Accentuate the positive: Begin any feedback session by focusing on the positive. What is good about the person’s work? Where are the strengths? Focus on the positive elements before moving on to any problems. As a rule of thumb, try and make three positive statements for any one criticism.
-Negate the negative: The fact is, many “negatives” can be turned into positives. If someone has difficulty in some aspect of her or his work, a positive way of looking at that difficulty is to recognize that it simply means that the person has room to grow and to learn. Instead of looking at problems or difficulties as flaws, present them as obstacles to be overcome, as steps along the road to learning.
-Keep a kindly tone: Think about your own reaction to having your work criticized. Chances are, you don’t feel terrific if someone bluntly points out an error or a mistake you’ve made. With that in mind, when you need to address a problematic issue in someone else’s work, do so kindly and considerately.
-Be precise, not vague: One of the most difficult kinds of feedback to receive is imprecise information. How can you make changes or improve your work if you don’t know, specifically, where the problems lie? If you are in the position of delivering feedback, it’s essential to take the time to be absolutely clear.
When considering the ways in which you can deliver positive feedback, you may also want to have a look at a few previous blog posts, including Workplace Communication: Mind Your Tone, and Why Words Matter.
And you might want to read a very interesting book called Words Can Change Your Brain, co-authored by Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D. They hypothesize that our minds actually respond more favorably to positive kinds of speech. They argue for what they call “compassionate communication.” Certainly when it comes to giving feedback — detailed or otherwise — that’s the kind of communication that makes it possible for the results to be constructive.
If you have any constructive feedback about this blog post, please let me know by commenting, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.