7 tips for providing constructive feedback to your team

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
December 12, 2023
An image of two people in an office setting laughing while looking at a computer and paperwork

Giving feedback can be nerve-racking. In fact, it literally gets people’s hearts racing. It’s no easy feat, but as a leader, it’s an important part of your job. 

Feedback can help improve employee performance and create successful teams. Whether you’re conducting performance reviews or need to address a one-off challenge, the key is to provide constructive feedback rather than destructive feedback. 

  • Constructive feedback focuses on the specific behaviors and actions an individual can take to grow and develop. Receiving constructive feedback might be a little challenging for team members to absorb, but, in the end, it gives them guidelines on how to improve and makes them better for it. 
  • On the other hand, destructive feedback is criticism that tears people down and diminishes their confidence, which can lower overall employee morale. It makes people feel bad about their work and about themselves. 

Fortunately, this can easily be avoided with the right preparation. We’ve put together some helpful tips to guide you on how to provide constructive feedback and keep your team motivated and engaged in the workplace. 

1. Choose the right setting

Choosing a conducive environment for a feedback session can affect how receptive a direct report is to your feedback. For example, it’s probably not ideal to meet in a busy, loud coffee shop where other patrons and conversations can be distracting. It’s also not beneficial to start giving in-depth feedback during team meetings around colleagues who don’t need to be privy to this conversation.  

With these examples in mind, here are a few suggestions for picking the right setting for your feedback meeting: 

  • Make it private and comfortable by scheduling one-on-one meetings away from any group setting. 
  • Choose a neutral location. Try to find somewhere outside the office or a typical work environment, since it might bring about feelings of power dynamics and prevent open communication. 
  • Schedule the meeting ahead of time. This gives them time to be emotionally prepared and less likely to get defensive. If you need to give feedback about a specific project or event, schedule a meeting soon after it takes place. 
  • Get rid of all distractions by silencing your phones and turning off Slack, messaging, and email notifications. 
  • Meet face-to-face in real time. Whether you meet virtually or in person, it’s important to see each other’s faces to convey empathy and connection while giving feedback synchronously.  

Encourage your team to use the same tips when it comes to peer-to-peer feedback. It’s better to make sure they’re not giving feedback at their desks while sitting next to everyone else. Instead, maybe they can go out to lunch or meet in an empty conference room or lounge area. 

2. Set a supportive tone 

Setting a supportive tone when delivering feedback can transform criticism into a motivating and encouraging process. Rather than leaving the meeting feeling defeated or like a failure, team members will know that you have their best interests at heart. 

Setting the right tone begins when you first book the session. Start by explaining the purpose of the meeting and what type of feedback you plan to give them. For example, say the purpose is to support them in their growth and development by helping them be a more productive team player. Then, the type of feedback would be to discuss areas of improvement when it comes to communication skills with their coworkers. 

Here are a few more tips for setting a supportive tone during your feedback sessions: 

  • Use emotional intelligence and empathy: Put your personal feelings aside and think about the situation objectively. How can you make sure it doesn’t feel like a personal attack on the team member?  
  • Make yourself accessible: Remind them that you’re available for any help, questions, or resources they might need. Provide them with easy ways to reach you that work best for both parties.  
  • Build trust: Learn about the best ways to communicate with each individual. Not every team member has the same communication style. Some prefer a more direct approach than others.
  • Focus on positive outcomes: Stay positive and show that you truly believe in their capabilities. When describing the goal of your feedback session, instill confidence in them by focusing on what you know they can achieve.  

When you give constructive feedback, you show employees what growth opportunities they have and ways they can improve and get promoted. Since one reason employees want to leave a job is that they think they have no growth opportunities, a supportive feedback process has the added bonus of potentially increasing employee retention.  

3. Provide specific examples

When you share your feedback with a team member, provide a specific critique that has to do with either a behavior, skill, or performance result. Some tips to help you do this include:

  • Prepare in advance: It can be hard to come up with examples on the spot, so think back on the situation and outline it in writing. 
  • Don’t use too many examples: The team member should get an idea of what you mean with just one or two examples. Using too many may overwhelm and demotivate them.   
  • Don’t make sweeping judgments: Focus on the employee’s behavior and the outcomes or impact of those behaviors, not on them as a person or their work ethic. Remember, you might not know what’s going on in their personal lives that led to their poor performance or mishaps. 

When delivering feedback, use the SBI model (situation, behavior, impact). For example, if an employee tends to deliver their work late, your feedback shouldn’t just be: “You need to stop missing due dates.” Instead, tell them about several times recently when you've noticed they've missed important deadlines. 

Then, you could discuss any blockers or reasons they may have for missing those deadlines and ways to help them improve their time management skills. And, rather than only focusing on how it'd make them better at their job, you can also explain the ripple effect of how late deliveries negatively impact the rest of the team. This can motivate the individual to pick up the slack and make a change that helps their teammates out.

Throughout this process, document what you’re discussing so you can both refer to it later. The employee can use it to make sure they’re on the right track, and you can use it when you follow up with an updated feedback meeting.  

4. Balance praise with areas of improvement 

Sharing praise alongside constructive criticism is a good way to show your team members that although they have some things to work on, you appreciate their hard work and recognize the positive contributions they’ve made. Praising employees by recognizing their strengths and positive impact increases employee engagement and improves the workplace culture. 

One great method for delivering praise and areas of improvement is called the “sandwich” approach. Here’s what it looks like: 

  1. Start on a positive note: Highlight the positive behaviors you’ve seen and be specific. For instance, if they are interested in getting a promotion, share an example of a time they used great leadership skills. 
  2. Gently transition to areas of improvement: Start with a disclaimer that there is still room for improvement in, say, their presentation skills. Provide them with a specific example of how they can improve, such as more eye contact or slowing down their speech cadence. 
  3. Follow the critiques with praise and encouragement: Express your trust and confidence in their ability to take the feedback and work on it. Share an example of how they’ve implemented feedback in the past or improved something that wasn’t working. 

By adhering to this approach, you can make sure your team members feel valued and don’t assume they are only making mistakes. 

5. Make sure it's a two-way conversation

Give your team members ample space to respond and engage during feedback conversations so that you can work toward problem-solving together. It'll make the feedback process feel less like a one-sided criticism and more like a joint effort to make improvements. This type of employee empowerment helps your team make smarter decisions and problem-solve better.

Here are a few ways you can establish a two-way conversation during a feedback meeting: 

  • Ask open-ended questions so they have space to express their thoughts (e.g., “Can you tell me more about your thought process?”) 
  • Make sure they understand your examples or specific notes and clarify if they don’t. 
  • Take part in active listening and reflection. This includes validating their feelings and showing empathy for their concerns or the reason that a lack of performance might have occurred. 
  • Encourage ownership of their suggestions. If they suggest that more practice time would help them improve their presentation skills, ask that they put together a plan for implementing more practice.  
  • Use nonverbal communication. Give your team members ample space and time to express their thoughts without interrupting them with verbal communication. Instead, nod along, give a thumbs up, and provide reassuring signs of understanding without speaking until they are finished.   

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t have to agree with everything they say. However, it’s still important to let them know they’ve been heard and that you appreciate them sharing their thoughts.

6. Provide next steps and expectations

A critical step in giving feedback is to suggest concrete next steps and agree on expectations so that your direct report has actionable direction from the conversation. During your feedback meetings, you’ll be setting goals with your team. When done effectively, goal setting helps shape positive behavior changes in employees. It gives each employee a clear direction to work toward, holds them accountable, and reduces any overwhelm they might feel. 

When they’re no longer working toward a collection of vague areas of improvement, they can take clear and decisive actions toward their goals.  

Here’s how you can provide concrete, actionable steps that support their professional growth: 

  • Use a shared document and put it in writing. Use feedback and goal-setting templates that both parties can contribute to, add comments, and jot down progress updates (e.g., Mural’s Team feedback template or Rose, thorn & bud template). 
  • Don’t try to tackle too many items at once. Just like giving too many points of feedback or examples of poor performance can be overwhelming and discouraging, too many action items become a burden and cause burnout in your team. 
  • Use the SMART goals method. Give team members specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound tasks. Use due dates so that they know when they’ll be held accountable. 
Related: How to set effective team goals (with examples)

At the end of the meeting, provide a recap of the key points you covered and summarize the positive outcomes you both expect to see in the near future. This reestablishes your expectations going forward and provides that your team members know what specific tasks to focus on. 

7. Follow up post-feedback

To hold your team members accountable to their post-feedback goals, check in with them regularly. The purpose of these follow-ups is twofold: first, to make sure your team members are making progress, and second, to check if there is anything else they'd like to add to their plate for their professional development. 

Here’s how to appropriately follow up with your team about feedback progress: 

  1. Schedule a formal follow-up meeting rather than just checking in off-hand.  
  2. Prepare for the follow-up meeting by reviewing the feedback session you had and preparing an agenda for this new one. 
  3. During the meeting, review the feedback together to refresh your memory. 
  4. Acknowledge the positive changes you’ve seen based on what was discussed (e.g., they are delivering on time or their sales numbers have gone up). 
  5. Ask how they feel it went. What questions, concerns, or feedback do they have?  
  6. Decide if there is anything to change in the improvement action plan and add it to your shared feedback document to review in the next session. 

Keep it consistent and set up another feedback session. The more you do it, the more comfortable people will be with the feedback process. They’ll come to expect it and see the benefits of it to boot! 

Making feedback sessions a bit more fun  

Depending on the personalities and dynamics of your team, you might find it both fun and helpful to get a little more personable in how you present feedback. For example, you can use GIFs, memes, or photos from the office to take the edge off what can be perceived as harsh criticism. 

Or, if you work remotely, you can use screenshots of Zoom calls and annotate them with encouraging notes and celebratory graphics that convey both your praise and your feedback in a fun and friendly way. All of these visuals can remind the feedback recipient that you are all part of the same team. You’re in this together! 

And you don’t have to be a graphic designer or an established artist to get creative with it. You can express your thoughts and feedback visually with a tool like Mural that integrates with stock image sites like Noun Project, GIPHY, and Unsplash. 

Giving constructive feedback can be something to look forward to rather than dread, so give Mural a try, and see how collaborative, visual work can help transform your experience for the better.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.

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