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Constructive Feedback: A Key to Improving Performance and Building Strong Relationships

Have you ever stopped to think about why some people seem to effortlessly climb the corporate ladder while others struggle to get their foot in the door? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not necessarily because they’re smarter or harder working. They’re likely the lucky recipients of constructive feedback.  Constructive feedback has gotten a bad rap over the years; primarily viewed as code for negative feedback.  But in reality “constructive” is a neutral term which means serving a useful purpose, and going forward in this article "constructive feedback" will be used in a neutral manner. 

Constructive feedback has been the subject of much research and has been shown to play a vital role in personal and professional growth; providing. individuals with valuable insights into their performance and behavior, enabling them to identify areas for improvement and make changes that lead to better results both for themselves and the business. 

Being the giver or receiver of feedback can be uncomfortable, especially since not all feedback is created equal. Here is what the latest research has identified the following key components of constructive feedback to help make the process a little easier:


  1. Specific: Feedback should be specific and relevant to the situation at hand, rather than general and vague.

  2. Actionable: Feedback should provide the recipient with clear, actionable steps they can take to improve their performance.

  3. Timely: Feedback should be given promptly after the relevant behavior or event has taken place.

  4. Objective: Feedback should be objective and based on observable behavior, rather than subjective opinions or emotions.

  5. Respectful: Feedback should be given in a respectful manner, avoiding personal attacks and maintaining a professional tone.

  6. Focused on the Future: Feedback should focus on the future, encouraging the recipient to consider what they can do differently in the future, rather than dwelling on past mistakes.

  7. Conversational: Feedback should be a conversation, not a soliloquy about the topic at hand.


Another key component of making feedback conversations better is to ensure they are happening often. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that individuals who receive regular feedback are more likely to be engaged in their work and more likely to receive promotions than those who don’t receive regular feedback.

Feedback can feel like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be incredibly empowering. It can help us identify our strengths, and give the guidance needed to grow and improve. On the other hand, feedback can also be incredibly painful. It can make us feel vulnerable and exposed. But here's the thing: that vulnerability is exactly what makes feedback so valuable. It forces us to confront the areas where we need to grow, and gives us the opportunity to work on them. 

Much like any other skill, giving and receiving constructive feedback takes practice. Be kind to yourself as you try out new ways to have these conversations! 

Below is a sample feedback conversation to help you prepare for your next one, as you read through it, notice the neutrality of the manager, the conversational tone and the trust between the manager and team member. Next, put yourself in the shoes of both the manager and the team member. How does it feel to be in this conversation? What would you say or do differently?

Situation: A team member is leading a project, but some team members have concerns about their leadership style.

Manager: Hi [team member], I wanted to discuss your leadership on the current project. I have received feedback from some team members that they feel you are not providing enough guidance and direction.

Team Member: Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Can you provide more specific examples of what they have said?

Manager: Sure. One team member mentioned that they feel like they are not sure what their role is and what they are supposed to be working on. Another team member said they would appreciate more frequent check-ins from you.

Team Member: I see. Thank you for sharing that with me. I will make sure to provide more clear guidance and have more frequent check-ins with the team.

Manager: Great. I appreciate your openness to feedback and your commitment to making changes. Let's touch base in a week or two to see how things are going.

In conclusion, constructive feedback is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth, and understanding its key components is crucial for ensuring it has the desired impact. By providing individuals with specific, actionable, timely, objective, respectful, future-focused feedback, and making it conversational we can improve performance and build stronger relationships while we're at it!

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