Running Your Business

How to Deliver Constructive Feedback and Foster a Learning Culture


  • Feedback is essential to an employee's career development, but they may not always be receptive to it

  • By delivering specific examples on a regular basis, business leaders can create a culture where feedback is the norm

  • When employees view missteps as a chance to learn and grow, they may be more welcoming of constructive feedback

Posted by February 24, 2020

Providing constructive feedback requires a delicate balance. As an employer, you’ll want to point out areas where employees can improve. However, if you come off too critical, your employees may not be receptive to the feedback—no matter how helpful it may be.

Delivering feedback effectively is a key skill that takes time to develop. To begin honing this ability, you’ll want to call on these five strategies.

Give Specific Examples That Don’t Infer Intent

Don’t tell an employee that they’re arrogant—doing so makes an assumption about their character. Rather, suggest that they might be clashing with coworkers because they’re coming across as brusque, perhaps unintentionally. Constructive feedback should always be objective and based on specific details.

Be open with your criticism and never assume an employee’s intentions. Offer specific examples of how their behavior might be affecting someone else. Has their coworker stopped responding quickly or favorably to their questions? Are they nervous about interacting with them?

Be clear with this feedback, relaying it respectfully and using careful but honest wording. Give them an opportunity to explain themselves, but be sure to maintain control of the conversation.

Offer Practical Solutions and Ideas

Never leave an employee hanging by just telling them they did something wrong and walking away. Help them figure out how to improve.

Depending on the situation, you could start by simply asking them, “How can I help you overcome this?” You may find they need more training or just feel burned out. Offer solutions based on the issues they raise as well as those you’ve seen yourself. If they’re making a lot of spelling mistakes in their emails, for example, tell them about a plug-in that’s helped you.

Share specific, actionable steps rather than vague ideas. Be sure to schedule a follow-up to assess how they’re doing and whether they need more guidance.

Provide Frequent Feedback

Don’t save all your feedback for an annual review. Instead, hold regular one-on-one meetings so you can tackle situations while they’re still fresh. After all, if they interrupted someone frequently in a meeting, you bringing it up a month later will just seem counterproductive and antagonistic.

By getting in the habit of pulling employees aside quickly to discuss how particular situations could’ve been handled better, you can promote a work culture where feedback is normal and expected.

Don’t Bury the Lead

Sandwiching a negative between two positives is a common feedback strategy. However, there are drawbacks to this approach: First, it may give an employee the wrong impression about their performance, leaving them shellshocked during a review. Second, they might see through this technique and find your lack of directness irritating.

Instead of beating around the bush, be frank and upfront about your concerns. It’s always better to establish a working relationship around transparency and respect than fake niceties. But make it a two-way street: Ask them if there’s anything you can do to improve.

With that said, regular recognition and encouragement are also crucial. Just as you would for constructive criticism, set aside time to provide relevant, thorough positive feedback.

Create a Culture Where Mistakes Are OK

If employees feel they might get fired or punished for making a single mistake, it can cripple productivity and create a toxic environment. Instead, foster a culture where missteps are seen as an opportunity to improve.

You can do this by creating specific and measurable goals around knowledge gaps you’ve seen. If they’re having trouble with time management, challenge them to try a new productivity method like Pomodoro. And don’t be afraid to open up about your own mistakes. By sharing how you once bounced back, your employees may be less anxious about making an error themselves. They may also be less defensive about constructive feedback if there’s a solid relationship between you two based on trust and respect.

Delivering constructive feedback doesn’t have to be daunting or difficult. By providing timely and relevant feedback with specific ways to improve, you can foster an environment where this criticism is expected, appreciated and seen as an opportunity to improve.

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