by Rachel Vilsack

“You did a great job!” is one of my favorite compliments to receive at work. This praise, however, doesn’t help me identify how I can improve my work or strengthen my skills. Constructive feedback is important to receive – and give – in a work environment.

conversationConstructive feedback is different than praise or criticism, which are personal judgments about an effort or outcome. Constructive feedback is specific information, focused on an issue and based on something observed. Feedback can be positive (like a statement about an effort well done) or negative (like a statement about an effort that needs improvement). Negative here doesn’t imply that your work is bad, but rather that you have an opportunity to learn and grow.

Feedback is common on the job, particularly around performance reviews, giving corrective guidance, or when coaching a subordinate or mentor. When you’re giving feedback, it’s more constructive when you can identify the issue involved and deliver your points with an “I” message. It’s important to provide specifics on what went well or needs to be addressed. Simply saying “You need to do a better job” doesn’t provide specifics about what went wrong.

The manner in which you provide constructive feedback is also important. You can express appreciation in positive feedback situations. “I appreciate your work on this report. It was well-written and showcases our agency.” In negative feedback situations, you can express concern. “Here are my concerns about your recent presentation. You spoke so quickly that the audience didn’t fully understand the program.” Constructive feedback is best given person-to person and should be provided as soon as possible after an issue has arisen so that events are fresh in everyone’s mind. Of course, you may need time to process what you are going to say and let emotional triggers subside.

You might even be given clues for when to give constructive feedback. Someone might ask you for your opinion about how they’re doing. Instead of simply saying “good job” or “okay,” provide them with a specific issue you’ve observed in their work, and provide context for the positive or negative feedback. There might also be persistent problems that require constructive feedback too.  If the work habits of a coworker disturb you, constructive feedback will go a lot further than criticizing them for their behavior.

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