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How to give constructive feedback to a colleague effectively

As a Human Resources Executive, people frequently ask me: How can I give constructive feedback to a colleague without hurting them? Today I share with you how to do it successfully.

There’s no doubt that our current networks of multidisciplinary and diverse teams enrich our work and promote innovative solutions. The constant interaction with others to reach common goals, however, has its own challenges. One of them is evidenced when we know a colleague could benefit from some constructive feedback about a behavior that affects their work, and we don’t know the best way to deliver it.

One of the Red Shoe Movement’s 7 Principles is anchored around the value of feedback. It encourages us to give honest feedback to other women in our network avoiding hurtful or unnecessary criticism. And the core RSM methodology (the RSM Circles,) is partly based on ongoing feedback among colleagues.

Giving constructive feedback is a cornerstone of the 7 Principles of the RSM

Giving constructive feedback is a cornerstone of the 7 Principles of the RSM

In fact, due to our social nature, humans tend to look for external validation and are motivated by what others have to say. There is plenty of research around this. One survey conducted this year by the international leadership consulting firm Zenger/Folkman found out that 65% of the people surveyed would like to receive more feedback, and 57% said they preferred to get feedback about what they need to improve rather than what they do well.

To give effective feedback is one of the most generous gifts one can offer a colleague. To give feedback in a constructive way, however, you must keep in mind certain rules. The secret for feedback to be delivered effectively can be found in the answer to these three questions.

Three questions help you provide constructive feedback effectively

Three questions help you provide constructive feedback effectively

1Is my colleague open to receiving feedback?

The first thing to consider when thinking about giving feedback to a peer is whether they are emotionally open to receiving it, particularly if your feedback is about something that they need to improve or change in the future. Despite a positive intent to help, your feedback might be touching on a sensitive topic. It is worth noting that often at work we get to know only one aspect of the other person’s reality. We are usually unaware of other areas of their personal history, past experiences, beliefs, and limitations. That’s why it’s important, s to ask if the other person is open to feedback. Here’s how you could frame the question,, “Louise, I have some observations related to the presentation you gave on Monday. Would you be interested in discussing them?”

2Do I have specific and objective information to give constructive feedback?

If our colleague is willing to receive feedback, it is important to offer it properly. For that to happen you must have thorough information about the situation you wish to address in order to frame it correctly. The more objective and specific the information you have, the better. Try to avoid vague observations that will not allow the other person to know what they need to change moving forward. For example, avoid a comment such as, “Louise, I think your behavior is unprofessional in team meetings”. This type of feedback is not only too generic but also it focuses on personality, which will make the other person more defensive and less likely to hear what you have to say. The correct way to give constructive feedback would be: “Louise, I noticed that in team meetings you tend to speak over other people which is not well received and affects the mood of the meeting.”

3Is my feedback constructive and will it help my colleague improve?

The third Red Shoe Movement Principle talks about the spirit in which feedback should be offered. “Provide honest feedback to the women in your network and avoid hurtful comments or unnecessary criticism.” Emotions play an important role in giving and receiving feedback. My advice is to keep them under control, especially if you are giving feedback around a behavior that has frustrated you in the past. When it comes to non-verbal communication, it is better to sit side by side (to level the playing field,) speak in a direct and pleasant tone of voice and be aware of the other person‘s reactions to your words. If you notice that your feedback is not being well received, invite your colleague to express their own point of view rather than imposing yours. For example, you could say something like: “Louise, I can see that you have a different view of the situation. Would you like to share your point of view?”

Learn how to frame your feedback and you will not only help a colleague but also strengthen the relationship.

Learn how to frame your feedback and you will not only help a colleague but also strengthen the relationship.

Giving feedback to a colleague who is a peer requires certain level of maturity and sensitivity to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings or negatively impacting the working relationship. You should not refrain from offering honest feedback, however, since doing so could deny your colleague of a valuable learning lesson and an opportunity to adjust professional competencies that could contribute to their future growth. Genuine, timely feedback that is delivered properly can not only work magic for the professional development of your colleague but also strengthen your working relationship. After all, taking the time to give constructive feedback to your peers is a concrete demonstration of your interest in their career success.