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Build Your Career Office Life

Fearless Feedback: 6 Steps to Successful Constructive Criticism

Fearless Feedback: 6 Steps to Successful Constructive Criticism
Credit: Liderina/Shutterstock

As professionals, we want to do better and be better. Giving and receiving constructive feedback allows us to see our behavior and work from someone else's perspective, which is important. Two people can often view the same situation completely differently but not even realize it.

Not giving feedback, especially when it's necessary to address unacceptable behavior, has consequences. However, you can create an action plan to provide critical, beneficial feedback.

Girl Develop It Detroit chapter leader Aisha Blake presented a workshop entitled "Giving Feedback Fearlessly" at the annual Ela Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 29.

Aisha Blake presenting at the 2017 Ela Conference Credit: Danielle Corcione

"[Feedback] can be scary to give because we can hurt people's feelings, but it can uncomfortable to receive because we're vulnerable," an audience member explained.

Blake identified two types of feedback: positive and constructive. Positive feedback focuses on what we're doing right; it feels gratifying, and it affirms our work. While it might not always be negative, constructive feedback concentrates on how we can improve what we do.

"[Constructive feedback] is the feedback we all think about," Blake emphasizes. "We want to make this about behaviors."

It sounds much easier said than done, but, remember, feedback isn't a personal attack – unless, of course, the feedback is intended to be taken personally.

There's a difference though, Blake said, between evaluation and escalation: "If you feel unsafe, that is something you need to bring to someone, whether it's HR, your manager or someone in your workplace," she said.

Follow Blake's six-step method to providing effective, constructive feedback.

The goal of providing any type of constructive feedback is to change a behavior. The other person won't understand why their behavior is a problem unless you properly articulate the behavior in detail.

"Keep it focused and actionable, so that there's a clear path forward," a slide from Blake's presentation read.

It's crucial to identify conflicts when they first happen. Otherwise, you're more likely to hold a grudge, which can manifest itself in snapping at the other person unintentionally later on.

"You don't need to see into the future, but you need to make sure things aren't festering for too long," Blake explained. "So often the problems we have, whether technical or personal ... wouldn't be such a big deal if someone said [something] the first, second or even fifth time, but the seventeenth time, we snap."

When you have to confront problematic behavior, it's important to take a step back and let yourself cool off first. Blake invited the entire audience to take a deep breath in and out twice.

"Don't jump in angry," the presentation slide stressed.

Because constructive feedbacks takes a lot of energy, especially emotional labor, take time to fully process your thoughts. Unless it's an urgent situation, write down how you would describe the behavior and read it out loud to yourself. Make edits as necessary to help prepare yourself for the real face-to-face conversation.

There are two sides to every story. "Your perception of the issue may not match the other person's lived experience," stated one of Blake's slides. Acknowledging your bias can help, especially if you're in a position of power based on your race or gender.

"I've had people [that were] intimidated by the way that I look," Blake mentioned.

For example, in her professional experience, she previously had supervisors make assumptions based on her identity, which prevented both of them from communicating effectively with each other.

"Making too many assumptions can hold the conversation back," a presentation slide read.

To combat assumptions, initiate a discussion with the other person. Don't make it one-sided either. Hear the other person out. After all, you don't know what stresses, outside of the workplace, they carry every single day.

After an appropriate length of time has passed, evaluate whether the other person's behavior changed. If it changed, ask yourself how it changed.

If they addressed and improved their behavior, consider thanking them at the right time. Conversely, if the behavior is still occurring, be prepared to own your experience and don't invalidate how you feel.

"At the end of the day, what you feel is not wrong, because it exists," Blake stressed.

An audience member suggested that supervisors should engrain both positive and constructive feedback into their office culture to make both receiving and providing feedback more normalized and less anxiety-inducing.

Danielle Corcione

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer. To learn more about their work, visit their website. They also run a blog called the Millennial Freelancer and a newsletter Rejected Pitches.