How to Provide Constructive Feedback

In Brief...

Unless a message is a broadcast to distribute information, one should always provide feedback to let the sender know that the message was received and the message was understood. Feedback may be a simple "Okay", a request for more information, an answer to the initial message, a rephrasing of the message, or a summary of the conversation. The following approaches will help you provide constructive feedback.


Restating the Message

When a sender is explaining something to the receiver and there could be doubt whether the message was received clearly, it can help if the receiver parrots (repeats) or paraphrases (rephrases) what the sender said. The sender can then acknowledge that the message was received correctly or restate the message to make it clearer.

Offering Criticism

When giving an opinion on the value or quality of something, a message can sometimes be received as hurtful.

For example, when a supervisor is commenting on the need for an employee to improve an area of his or her work, the employee may become defensive or offended by the statement. To prevent this, use the sandwich approach to "sandwich" constructive criticism between two compliments. In this technique, the sender will:

  1. Give a compliment.
  2. State the criticism.
  3. Offer another compliment.

Using the sandwich approach, the supervisor may say, "I appreciate your attention to detail and the quality of your work. I would like you to get the work done in a more timely manner though, so please submit the report by its due date tomorrow at noon. I know you've done a lot of research, so I'm really looking forward to reading your insightful report!"

This is likely to be more easily accepted than if the supervisor said, "You're always late with your work. You need to get tomorrow's report done on time."

Using 'I' statements keeps the criticism from being focused directly on a person. In the previous message, we can see how the use of the words "you" and "I" made a difference in the presentation.

Communicating Goals

The goal of critiquing is not to demean someone's work, but to present the issue and offer support and ideas for improvement. For this reason, it is very helpful to illustrate what the expected outcomes are.

This may be in the form of:

  1. A diagram.
  2. An example.
  3. A defined objective.

Objectives should always be clearly stated and include:

  1. Specific expectations.
  2. A timeline.
  3. Measurements.

Making something measurable provides the recipients with an understanding of the goal for which they are striving.

Author: Sheri Schmeckpeper

Sheri Schmeckpeper holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Financial Management and Computer Information Systems as well as a Master's degree in Adult Education and Distance Learning. She is a Microsoft Certified Professional and Trainer. Sheri has implemented distance learning programs at three top institutions of higher education, has been a guest speaker on radio, and has presented at local and national training workshops. Her diverse background includes technology, education, interpersonal relations, finance, and management. Sheri has developed and facilitated courses in the areas of instructional technology and online learning, faculty development, communications, finance, and professional development and achievement. She is currently co-founder of the Institute for Instructional Excellence and directs the Center for Excellent Living where she is also a life coach.