Giving constructive feedback isn’t easy. We’re ideally trying to thread the needle of being both honest and kind when we offer our suggestions to someone. Think back to a time when you were on the receiving end of some unexpected feedback…

  • Did someone tell you that you were doing it all wrong?
  • Or point out your mistake with a condescending tone?
  • Or dump a problem in your lap without offering any kind of solution or help?

How’d that work out for them?

If you’re like me, you probably reacted with a) anger, b) embarrassment, c) “!@#$% them!” or d) all of the above.

While the intention was probably good, they made the mistake of offering their feedback in a way that made it hard for us to hear.

Threading the Feedback Needle

When we’re working as part of a group, there will inevitably be differences of opinion. Those opinions lead to suggestions about how to improve the way that things are done. How group members talk about those differences and suggestions has a big impact on how well folks work together.

If we err on the side of blunt feedback that’s focused on ourselves, we risk insulting, angering, or upsetting the other person. In addition to being unkind, this defeats our purpose for offering the feedback. Their emotions will probably prevent them from hearing what we have to say.

If we err on the side of beating around the bush in an effort to be “nice,” however, the other person might walk away without really understanding our concerns.

There’s a simple 4-step process we can all use to help us thread the feedback needle. When we do, we can give constructive feedback that is both honest and kind.  It also maximizes our chances that the other person will at least consider what we have to say.

First, Some Guidelines for Giving Feedback

A couple of important guidelines to keep in mind:

Assume good intentions. Both the feedback giver and receiver mean well and want the best for everyone involved. Remembering this can help foster a “we’re in this together” feeling instead of creating a “me vs. you” or “right vs. wrong” mentality.

Say it how you’d want to hear it. Whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end of constructive feedback, tone of voice and facial expression play a big role in how our message is received. Remembering that feelings (ours and theirs) are involved helps us prevent the conversation from derailing.

Steps for Offering Constructive Feedback

  1. Ask. Ask if this is a good time to offer feedback. Be prepared to hear “No” and respect that answer. This recognizes the value of the other person’s time and emotional state.
  2. Share. If the answer is yes, clearly state the concern and offer a possible solution.
  3. Confirm. The receiver repeats back what they heard to make sure everyone is on common ground. The receiver doesn’t have to respond or react right now. They may need time to process, research, or talk with others. The receiver should follow up with the giver at a later time to close the loop.
  4. Appreciate. Thank the receiver for listening.

The next time you offer constructive feedback to someone, I invite you to try this process. I hope that doing so makes threading the feedback needle easier.

Want some more tips about how to have a difficult conversation? Check out this article.