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How to Give — and Take — Constructive Feedback on the Job

two women giving feedback

The thought of giving and receiving feedback may make you want to hide from the world, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. In fact, it can help you advance in your career. Giving and receiving feedback matures you socially, emotionally and professionally. It promotes a thriving work environment that helps build trust for everyone involved.

But there are right and wrong ways to do it. Caitlin Morrissey, an Aerotek human resources business partner, offers tips on the most effective ways to give and receive quality feedback at work.

How to give constructive feedback at work

Feedback should be aimed at the action, not the person. This includes feedback for a coworker, subordinate and even supervisors — which can feel scary sometimes.

“If a coworker left you off of an important email chain, instead of saying, ‘You're extremely careless and disorganized,’ address the circumstance and the problem: ‘I was left off of an email, and it makes me feel excluded,’” says Morrissey.

To make the situation more about the action than the individual, use “I” language versus “you.”

Other tips to make feedback discussions effective:

  • Gather facts — not just feelings
  • Plan and schedule it, so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle
  • Time it right to avoid the heat of the moment
  • Don’t rush through the conversation
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t be defensive
  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s intent

Even if someone you work with does something that rubs you the wrong way, trust that their intentions were good. With this mindset, you’ll offer feedback tactfully instead of doing damage.

How to receive constructive feedback

Receiving critical feedback can be a humbling experience. But know that it takes a level of trust for someone to be willing to tell you a hard truth.

Take it from Morrissey: “You won’t get to the next level in your career if you lack the humility, openness and willingness to receive feedback and make changes.”

To receive and respond well to constructive feedback, follow these helpful steps:

  • Remember that though you may disagree with feedback, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
  • Reflect on your behavior, job performance and the points your feedback provider made.
  • Plan follow-up questions to understand more, especially if you leave the conversation feeling confused about your impact.
  • Reach out to a mentor or trusted peer to seek validation. You could learn that the feedback was accurate but maybe wasn’t delivered in a way that you understood.
  • Use this language during your follow-up: “Please clarify when you say ____” or “Help me understand ____.”
  • Be willing to take ownership. Hold yourself accountable to the feedback.

Why and how you should ask for feedback

In the spirit of continuous improvement, you should ask for feedback, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve heard how you’re doing at work. You need an outside perspective to describe what you’re doing well and where there’s room to grow. It will nudge you forward with motivation and understanding.

Schedule a conversation with your supervisor, as well as peers. (Your supervisor isn’t the only source). Start the discussion by stating that you're open to learning — you want and need feedback to improve as an employee.

Then be clear on what type of feedback you're after: Is it on your work performance or your leadership? Keep a few questions in mind. This directness will give your peers or supervisor permission to speak honestly.

“Approachability is an essential function to giving and receiving feedback,” says Morrissey.

Remember to receive the feedback that you asked for with an open mind.

Giving feedback is required for management success

Though you don’t have to be a manager to give feedback, it is required to manage people well.

“Giving and receiving feedback in an open and diplomatic way is at the core of the management toolkit. You're trying to help another person recognize the impact of their actions on others and themselves — both personally and professionally. Without shedding this light, you can’t be successful as a manager,” says Morrissey.

Don’t forget that recognizing strengths — giving positive feedback — will inspire someone and help them cultivate their strengths.