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How To Give Positive And Constructive Feedback

For some reason when you think of feedback examples you’ve received from a manager, one might instantly be transported back to a time in grade school when we were summoned to the principal’s office. No matter how old you are, that memory always sticks with you.

As a leader, feedback is NOT about getting anyone “in trouble.” While feedback can be positive or constructive (as opposed to negative feedback) the goal of employee feedback should always be to contribute to team members and the company culture. It’s part of taking on the role of coach; not just boss. It includes performance management, communication skills, and work styles.

When To Give Feedback

One of the most critical things about how to give feedback is WHEN you give it (whether it’s constructive feedback or positive feedback). Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Give feedback as CLOSE to the relevant circumstances as possible: Holding onto feedback is a disservice to the team member and gives you one more thing to juggle on your calendar. Time may not always allow for it to be in the moment, but delivering the feedback in a timely manner (one week or less) is better than just waiting for the next performance review.

  • Know the time AND place: Never give constructive feedback to someone in front of others. Period. Always make sure you are in a private space to share constructive feedback. Remember, the person you are about to talk to could be having a 3rd grade flashback, so be kind.

  • Read the room: Take into consideration your own state of mind, frustration level, and the wellbeing of the rest of the team. (i.e. don’t give constructive feedback if you are annoyed or if the person is visibly upset or feeling it and about to lose their lunch.)

How To Give Feedback

Feedback is not a two-word sentiment.  It’s not “good work, thank you, nice job, or stop that!” Sure, we should say thank you but giving good feedback requires giving SPECIFIC feedback. It’s about what happened, what didn’t happen, what went right, what went wrong and even what can be done better next time.

Before we even get into the “meat” of the feedback, let’s start at the beginning. Choosing HOW to start a feedback conversation can set the tone for the entire conversation and employee experience.

Feedback is what you say…

Examples of Positive Feedback:

  • “I’d love to share some good news with you.”

  • “That was an incredible presentation, let’s unpack all of what worked.”

  • “I’ve really noticed the extra effort and creativity you’ve been putting into this current project, let’s talk about what’s working.”

What to notice: All of these statements imply there is something MORE to discuss, share, and give positive feedback about. Feedback is a conversation not a one time ATM deposit.

Examples of Constructive Feedback:

  • “There’s something I want to go over with you about our current project. Let’s put our heads together. “

  • “I’ve noticed that some of your work isn’t at the level of detail that it usually is. Is everything ok?”

  • “We obviously need to discuss the disagreement that you and Sue had in the meeting. Where would you like to start?”

What to notice: These types of feedback seek to create common ground and partnerships. They are inclusive, not handing down some disciplinarian edict from on high. When you include the person as an active participant in the conversation, feedback examples like this are easier for others to receive.

…AND how you say it

The HOW you say it is a combination of things like tone, body language, facial expression, and even volume. Here’s a list of do’s and dont’s.

Do

  • Smile when appropriate.

  • Be at eye level (either both seated or both standing).

  • Watch your resting “you-know-what” face.

  • Avoid the eye roll entirely.

  • Inject humor when appropriate. It’s ok to laugh!

  • Ask if the person has any questions. 

Don’t

  • Raise your voice. Ever. (1950 called and wants their management style back)

  • Avoid admitting anything that might be your responsibility.

  • Interrupt. Just listen.

  • Go on and on and on. Make sure it’s a dialogue.

  • Do anything else while delivering feedback. Your exploding inbox can wait. 

  • Try to remember all of these things. Just be authentic and real. 

Here are some real feedback strategies that work:

One of the most popular models for giving effective feedback that has stood the test of time is the STAR model. For those of you who like acronyms and easy to remember words you can keep in your back pocket, this one’s for you:

S = The Situation 

T= Task

A= Action

R= Result

The STAR Model For Giving Positive Feedback

S = You’ve really gone the extra mile and done the hard work with the Smith account.

T= When they threw that last minute pivot at you..

A= You knew exactly what information to pull in to improve the situation.

R = Our main contact was thrilled and is planning on expanding their contract with us.

The STAR Model For Giving Constructive Feedback (with a twist)

S= I know things have been stressful since Sarah left our team..

T= And I realize that you were struggling with this last project..

A= It felt like you rushed as we got towards the deadline instead of asking for support..

R = Which means we have a few things to double back to make sure we have all the bases covered.

In SOME feedback models, it is suggested here that the manager GIVE direct reports the alternative result, but what can be even more powerful is to apply a coaching technique.

Follow up this constructive feedback with a coaching question.

Here are a few examples:

  • Is there something I could have supported you with?

  • What would you do differently next time?

  • How can the team better support you in the future?

  • What do you think is the best place to start in “Q-Aing” the project?

Whether you are delivering a bouquet of compliments or have to discuss some difficult constructive criticism, simple tweaks to how you approach giving regular feedback can go a long way with employee engagement.

What matters the most is how someone feels once they walk away from the conversation.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Boss to Coach Ebook Mockup

If you’re a leader ready to learn practical management skills that utilize coaching to develop your team, check out the Boss To Coach Playbook.

About Stephanie Licata

With more than two decades of leadership and management experience, Stephanie Licata is a skilled professional coach, adult learning specialist, consultant and speaker. She has trained thousands of leaders and managers in the art and science of coaching as part of large-scale projects to develop coaching cultures within organizations. Stephanie received her professional coaching certification from New York University, and is also certified at the ACC level with the International Coaching Federation. She holds a BS in counseling and a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

Stephanie Licata M.A. A.C.C.

Stephanie Licata M.A. A.C.C.

Stephanie is a learning and leadership strategist and coach who thrives on helping organizations create workplaces that work for everyone. She has trained thousands of Cloverleaf users at all levels to maximize the platform's potential. In addition, she has trained thousands of leaders across several industries in the art and science of coaching for developing individuals and teams. Stephanie has a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is an ICF and NYU certified coach.