Giving Constructive Feedback

This morning after I cooked breakfast I was told that I put too many cranberries in the oatmeal porridge. The feedback was accurate but I was a bit defensive as most of us are when people give us  feedback. (I did ask “How is the meal?“)

I work in a feedback rich world. I have been asked to give feedback to thousands of leaders on their performance over the years.  In turn, they or their organizations, give feedback on how well I performed as an executive consultant.

How do you give or receive accurate feedback that actually produces positive changes? And when is feedback destructive?

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Snow White, the wicked stepmother had a magic mirror that always told her what she wanted to hear, i.e. that she is the fairest of them all.

Faulty feedback either tells us what we want or hear or it distorts who and what we really are. Here are some other characteristics of unhelpful and at times destructive feedback. It

1.   Judges us

Some people use feedback like a scalpel with the purpose of hurting and cutting deep. They may believe that what they say is “for our own good” but it comes from a negative place of judgment. Such feedback is rarely constructive and always hurts and it is amazing to me that so many leaders use it habitually.

2.   Projects onto us

At times when a person claims to see something going on in our lives they are way off the mark. In fact their judgment about us may be more of a comment on what is going on in their own lives. This is called projection.

Giving Empowering Feedback

By contrast the most helpful feedback is

1.   Cognizant of our wants

Recently an executive told me that he had set up a development plan with one of his reports however the report was not acting on the plan. I asked a basic question “How much does that person want to achieve these goals?” The answer to that question became the motivation for change. Upping the want increases the possibility of action.

2.   Connected to our strengths

Often when we are told that we need to change something in our lives we think “this mountain is too high for me to climb. I can never accomplish what I am being asked to do.” However, when we are able to leverage our strengths in the service of the development goal suddenly the task becomes doable.

3.   Paired with resources for change

One key to great leadership is that you either remove obstacles or provide resources for a person who seeks to make changes. Such resources could come from mentoring, training, coaching, classes, or just a deep personal interest in the welfare of your report.

4.   Produces results that can be measured

There is a common saying in the consulting world “If you cannot measure it, it does not exist”. My most frequent question to leaders is “How will you know that you have made the changes you want to make by the end of our contract?” What are your metrics?”

5.   Tied to milestones and deadlines

In any quest whether it be weight loss, learning a new leadership skill, dealing with procrastination, or completing a project successfully it is imperative that both milestones and deadlines be defined. Finally, one needs to be accountable to others for the completion of the task.

If you use some of the above feedback strategies as a leader you can have a deep and positive impact on a person’s career trajectory.

You may also want to read

Deploying Leadership Strengths to Help Weaknesses

 How to Give Effective Feedback

 On Projection im-talking-about/


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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