How to Write Constructive Feedback for Your Colleagues
Let’s face it: Giving and receiving constructive feedback is hard. Even the best managers struggle to give constructive feedback. As for employees? It’s almost even harder to hear it.
The good news is that there are ways to make this easier — and also more effective and productive for all team members.
Giving the right constructive feedback will help your team members get better, both on a personal and professional level. With the right approach, you can create a fantastic team capable of achieving major goals while improving their productivity and efficiency and creating a great team atmosphere.
And all of it starts with understanding what constructive feedback is.
What is constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback is feedback that aims to support individuals by identifying the team member’s weaknesses, developing a plan to help them overcome those weaknesses, and providing support to change these undesirable behaviors.
Since the purpose of it is to develop the individual personally and professionally, constructive feedback is positive in nature. Some of the great outputs and results of constructive feedback include:
- Improved team member morale
- Clear goals, measurements, and expectations toward employees
- Psychological safety, which according to Google is one of the most impactful elements of a high-performing team
- Developed trust, accountability, and a sense of ownership in the team
The best way to frame constructive feedback
Knowing the benefits of constructive feedback is great. But understanding and framing the necessity of constructive feedback is even better.
Most employees don’t want to hear constructive feedback since they have an equation in their heads that goes something like this:
If I do something bad = I am a bad person = I will get fired = My confidence will be crushed.
If you, as a manager, want team members to actively seek constructive feedback and want to get better on their own, then you need to think about it in the following way.
Constructive feedback is like a game where you receive feedback immediately after you do something because you need to know if the behavior in the game is making your character stronger or not.
If it does, you continue that behavior (i.e., positive reinforcement). If it doesn’t, you receive constructive feedback from the game in various formats such as:
- Get better equipment (tools) to complete this mission
- Try again using a different strategy
- Your tactic was good and correct, but you need to work on the execution of it
Everyone loves this about games because it lets you immediately know what you need to work on to grow. And you need to start thinking about your team in the same manner.
In other words, make constructive feedback seem like a game to your team members where they will need to hear constructive feedback and be able to attain new “levels” and skills. This can be done via promotions or recognition systems where workers need to improve to get a reward.
A common misunderstanding of constructive feedback is that people usually tend to associate it with failing — which is why many workplaces steer away from giving constructive feedback.
But avoiding constructive feedback limits the potential of every single employee and stifles growth, open communication, and trust.
So, the best tip is to frame constructive feedback in a way that makes it appear as a game that helps the team members become better professionally and personally.
How to write constructive feedback
There is one method that works wonders in an office environment without creating a sense of false harmony or a facade of mistrust.
And that technique is called the BIO method, which stands for:
With the BIO method, you:
- Observe a specific behavior and then explain what you observed
- Tell your colleagues what kind of impact that behavior had on you, the team, and/or the organization
- Provide a suggestion or an expectation for future behavior, or alternatively ask how the other person wants to move forward
It’s quite tricky to talk to someone about their behavior without being subjective. Here’s what I mean.
The phrase This happened and it’s bad is actually two impressions. The first — This happened — is objective. The second — it’s bad — is subjective.
In The Book of Five Rings, 16th century samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi noted the difference between observing and perceiving. The observing eye sees simply what is there. The perceiving eye seems more than what is there.
When giving constructive feedback and especially when explaining behavior, the former is helpful and the latter isn’t.
Here’s an illustration that shows the difference between an observing and perceiving eye.
- “You looked really confident when presenting. That made me enjoy your presentation more, so keep doing that.”
This is a perfect example of a subjective opinion, where “looking confident” is the interpretation of behavior that hasn’t been described. The problem with this type of feedback is that the recipient doesn’t know what he or she has done which made them look confident.
As a manager, you need to be especially careful about this and take notice of the following example.
- “You stood up straight and looked around the audience. And as a result, I felt engaged and thought you looked confident. Keep doing this!”
Here, the behavior is explained. This results in a positive effect on the person receiving the constructive feedback because they know what they actually did that caused the person to feel a certain way (i.e., stood up straight and looked around the audience).
This is more helpful for the receiver as he or she knows the behavior they need to continue doing. So, when explaining behavior, make sure you use the “observing eye” approach.
For the impact category to be right, it needs to be explained in the “I” language.
“I” based means that you explain the impact a certain behavior had on you by talking in “me” language.
Here is an example:
- “When you stood up fast and started walking toward me hastily, I felt scared.”
Here is where you explain how you felt at that moment — not what the other person embodied. You don’t assign an attribute to the other person. You only tell them how it made you feel. You focus on what was done, not who the person is.
So, the person who stood up fast and started walking toward you hastily isn’t a scary person. Their behavior simply scared you.
If you assign an attribute to a person when giving feedback, the whole purpose of giving feedback will be for naught. You’re just encouraging the same behaviors by telling the person that the behavior is part of their entire character, which makes it unlikely that they will change.
Don’t make character judgments. Just describe the effect a certain behavior had on you.
Here are two examples to demonstrate:
- “You are scary.” vs. “By jumping from the chair and rushing toward me, you made me scared.”
- “You are lazy.” vs. “Whenever you miss an assignment, I need to pick up on it. It makes me feel overused.”
So don’t attack the character or who the person is. Focus on the deed; what the person did.
Remember, it’s not who they are, but simply what they do. And that can always be changed.
The option component of the BIO method consists of two parts.
The first one is when you actually provide the option as a point of reference. You tell the other person what they need to start/stop/continue doing as an option for them.
In giving constructive feedback, this is used more as a positive, reinforcing tool. It’s also used in situations when you don’t have time for other options.
The second part is coaching.
Coaching is always great since you leave the option as a question that you ask the employee. It’s more about what they can think of doing differently than you telling them what they should do differently.
This is a great way of teaching your employees and having them grow both personally and professionally.
Here is an example:
- “Mike, last time you submitted the whitepaper, it was filled with lots of errors. I had to spend a great deal of time fixing the mistakes and it made me feel like I was doing something that wasn’t supposed to be my task. What do you think can be done differently to prevent this from happening in the future?”
Constructive feedback examples using the BIO method
What follows are a couple of frequent situations you will face as a manager where you will have to give out constructive feedback. Here is how you can use the BIO method to do it properly.
If an employee is frequently late
Matt, do you have just a moment? I’ve noticed that you’ve been coming late to our meetings for a bit more than two weeks now. When you do that, it sends a message to everyone else that their arrival time doesn’t matter much and that you’re excused from coming to the meeting at the arranged time. In the future, it would be great for you to take notice of the meeting time and come at the arranged time.
If an employee is missing their deadlines
Stella, I’ve just looked at your numbers for this month and I’ve noticed that they are a bit off. The project that you’ve been working on had a two-week delay which prevented the team from accomplishing their monthly results. I would suggest you build in some extra time to work on the projects since it’s important for everyone in the team to stay on track and keep up with their goals.
If an employee is missing their deadlines because of a personal matter
Hi Anne, I need to talk to you for just a moment. I’ve gone through the numbers for this month and it appears that your project was two weeks late. I know this period must be hard for you considering the personal situation and I’ve expected some bumps along the ride. Can you just make sure to communicate to me that there will be things you won’t be able to do in the following period so that we can arrange for us to pick up the work? That way, the team will still stay productive and we will help you make it through this period.
If an employee isn’t a team player
Mark, a moment please. I’ve noticed that when some of our team members struggle with a task and you can help them out with your skill set, you miss out on it. It’s a perfect moment for you to make a team contribution and help your colleagues and, in turn, help the team perform well. Mark, everyone needs help from time to time and that’s how you build a great team you can rely on. Next time, when you finish your work and you see a team member struggling, it would be best if you could see what you could help them out with.
Constructive feedback helps your team grow
Giving constructive feedback will help develop everyone on your team and help your organization accomplish its goals.
But for that to happen, you first need to frame the constructive feedback as something employees want. Once you’ve done that, you need to use the BIO method to deliver constructive feedback the right way.
Doing this the right way may take some time. But if you’re determined and willing to iterate on the process and improve it over time, you’ll reap the full rewards of constructive feedback, and your business and customers will be happier because of it.
So start telling your team about the importance of constructive feedback and start sharing some of it in the most effective way you can. That’s how you’ll build a stronger team that helps your organization get to the next level.
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