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Tips to Providing Constructive Feedback

By Jan McGuire

Providing constructive feedback that resonates the right way isn’t a skill that comes easily to most of us. Most often, the feedback we provide falls on opposite ends of the spectrum: not direct enough, as we don’t want to hurt feelings or too direct or harsh, which puts the person on the receiving end on the defensive. The best way, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between.

Giving constructive feedback isn't a task limited to managers; most of us in Donor Relations will need this skill to collaborate with colleagues in other units. (Take writers and graphic designers from your communications and marketing team, for example).

Here are some tips to keep in mind whenever you need to provide feedback in the workplace.

  1. Acknowledge the effort. It's a basic human need to be appreciated, and it's no different in the workplace. Thank the person for their effort and acknowledge things like meeting a deadline or providing the information in the requested format, etc.

  2. Start with what's right. Even if you have to dig for something. Perhaps it's something as simple as the length or format of the written piece, or maybe it's the thoroughness of the work (even if it thoroughly misses the objective!) If it is a managerial issue, state something the staff member does well or how they add value to your team.

  3. Then get to the point. If the feedback is project-based, remind the person of the project's purpose, saying specifically how or where the work falls short and, most importantly, giving them clear direction on improving the work. If it's overall employee performance, remind them of the department's responsibilities and the expectations that each team member must meet. If it's a specific HR rule in question, cite the policy specifically and provide them with a copy of it (even if you know they have it).

  4. In any scenario, it’s best to send an email as a follow-up. The email should simply reiterate the points made during the conversation. The email provides your colleague with something to reference as they rework a project, ensuring the next iteration meets expectations. For employee performance issues, the email documents that the conversation occurred and states what’s expected from the staff member moving forward.

I'm not going to dwell on COVID-19 or politics or any of those outside issues that affect the workplace, but let's face it—emotions are high, and patience is thin these days. And meeting in the middle when it comes to constructive feedback is as essential now as it ever was.

What are your tips for providing feedback? We’d love to know!


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