Constructive feedback: What it is and how to master it
You’re likely to be familiar with the term ‘constructive feedback’, but what does it really mean? How do you do it? And why does it matter? These are all great questions, and we’re about to demystify them all for you.
What is constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback is giving comments and suggestions, usually to another person on a deliverable, process, or similar. This feedback is usually given or received in a professional environment. (It does work in your personal life too).
The intention of this kind of feedback is to make a good idea great. It’s a process of contributing to something, and/or ‘massaging’ it into a better outcome or result. You can think of it as a way of fine-tuning, and it also helps people grow at the same time.
The person giving constructive feedback can often be a team leader, colleague, or client. Yet anyone can give or receive constructive feedback. It comes down to what it is that’s in review, and who is doing what—reviewing or receiving feedback.
Why is constructive feedback important?
We’ve touched on it already in that constructive feedback gives you or your business a way to deliver the best possible result. So learning how to give constructive feedback and receive it is a crucial skill for everyone’s development. That’s you, the business, your colleagues, your boss. It’s a team effort!
One of the most amazing things about constructive feedback is that you can use it as a tool to help you grow. It’s good to learn this early in your career. Without doing so, it’s easy to be on the defensive at a critique of your work. When you understand that the aim of this feedback is to help you do an even better job and will help you grow, it makes all the difference. Delivering top results for the business also means everyone wins. Listen to comments and suggestions, try to get under the skin of what the ‘need’ is that’s missing. Could that headline be shorter, and then more scannable and impactful? Could you help a colleague solve a problem with a constructive peer review? Two heads are indeed often better than one.
Kashani Wijetunga, Hult Class of 2019, used Hult’s EMBA program to develop her leadership skills and gain invaluable, constructive feedback.
“The teamwork projects were where I learned the most about leadership and applied it to the challenge at hand”, says Kashani. “Group work puts you in a pressure-cooker situation and pushes you to deliver high-level results in a very short amount of time. My biggest point of growth was receiving constructive feedback—with the help of my peers, I gained a reflective lens on my behavior and learned how to lead better.”
Kashani now puts all her learnings into practice and builds on it daily as Associate Director and Senior Strategy Consultant at real estate firm CBRE.
How do you give constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback should focus on what it is that needs to improve, and be as specific as possible to facilitate that.
The delivery of the feedback is just as important. This should never be personal or judgemental—the whole point is about collaborating so as to elevate the final output or outcome. Let’s look at a five-step way you can try for giving effective constructive feedback:
- Communicate the purpose of your feedback: explain what you’ll be discussing and why it’s important.
- Describe what you’ve seen, read, or reviewed and share your thoughts in an open, positive, and helpful way.
- Give the person whose work is being reviewed ample time to respond to your feedback.
- Offer specific suggestions or solutions. Be as detailed as you can.
- Summarize everything discussed.
What good constructive feedback looks like
In business, constructive feedback happens all the time. Though it varies in quality, detail, and delivery. It can be worthwhile drawing up guidelines to help standardize this.
Guidelines are a widely used approach in the media and publishing industries. Not only do these guidelines help a writer get stylistic punctuation and spelling conventions spot on, they also help the reviewer check that the finished work meets the ‘house style’.
Similarly, if you’re a marketing manager, you might be working with multiple external agencies and will need guidelines to keep outputs consistent in quality. You may have to brief and critique a campaign created by the agency, or product copy written by a copywriter. Be specific, and do all you can to offer more useful feedback than the cliché, “Can you make it more punchy?”
In almost every company, you’ll have an annual review or be giving them. These are all about constructive feedback. Over the course of your career, you may find yourself on both sides of these reviews, contributing to your own, and leading these sessions for colleagues. It’s important to give a 360° view at annual reviews, too. To achieve this, it’s not uncommon for peers to chime in on peers. Usually, the review format centers on things done well, things to improve, and actions and/or timelines to hit those goals. Again, always communicated in an open, honest, and positive way.
Learn constructive feedback skills at Hult
Hult is all about investing in your growth mindset. No matter what your starting point on learning, constructive feedback and other leadership skills, you can improve through constant practice and feedback. This proven technique means you’ll be more self-aware and able to make better decisions. You’ll also be able to see your behaviors changing and feel your effectiveness in groups and organizations increasing. You’ll see for yourself just how transformative learning by doing is and how much you can improve in areas you once thought were impossible. It’s a mindset that will stay with you for life.
Hult offers a range of highly skills-focused and employability-driven business school programs. Get the right skills to succeed in any business environment with Hult.