Learning to Give Constructive Feedback

It is nearly impossible to have any personal or professional growth without feedback.  Unfortunately, most people give and receive feedback poorly. How do we experience growth if we are not given useful, constructive feedback about what we do well and areas we can improve?

Personal Experience with Constructive Feedback

I started going to Toastmaster meetings to get consistent practice writing and delivering public speeches. I continue going to Toastmasters because of the leadership development. Toastmasters is only partially about speaking, in fact, half of the meeting is about effective evaluation. In Toastmasters, everything is reviewed; filler words, grammar, even your ability to keep things on time.

In Toastmasters, I have learned that evaluation and feedback is difficult, especially when you are evaluating someone who feels vulnerable about delivering something on which they worked hard. In an effort to be sensitive, people frequently use the sandwich method. This method is to say something you like, something that can be improved, and then something else you like. I think the idea behind this is great, but the execution is often missed. In fact, I see this often go wrong because the evaluator is only using the method to soften the blow of negative feedback instead of using the method to find great things as well as to be constructive.

Evaluating Supposed Constructive Feedback

Let’s look at an example and see how effective it is.

“I like your presentation, you did a good job. However, I think it could use more work. I know you are new to this, so that is okay. When I was new, I made all kinds of mistakes that were really embarrassing. I learned over time that I needed to spend more time preparing and getting more peer feedback. It was actually funny when you spilled that cup of coffee, but it was a bit distracting. Overall, I think you are going to be great at this, you just need a bit more practice. “

What is wrong with this feedback?

Feedback is not about the evaluator!

Giving feedback that contains “When I did something similar, this is how I handled it” is not useful. You are evaluating someone else’s objectives, not your own. Leave yourself out of it.

It is not specific.

Some people are uncomfortable with feedback because they worry feelings will be hurt. Being vague to spare feelings is not helpful. Pull out specifics when giving constructive feedback. If you struggle with this, start with tangible elements like timing, grammar, or body language.

It is judgmental.

Evaluators should be as neutral as possible. Judging someone’s experience or other qualifications does not add value to feedback. Even when stated as kindly, judgmental comments are not useful.

It overstates the obvious.

For the most part, people are introspective enough to know when they messed up. This presenter is likely already embarrassed about the coffee spill. There is no reason to browbeat someone when they are already aware of a mistake.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is critical for improvement. Because it is not easy, we have developed a Constructive Feedback Form to serve as your guide to evaluation. Please remember this is a tool and may not fit all projects. Feel free to manipulate it to meet the needs of your evaluation.




3 thoughts on “Learning to Give Constructive Feedback

  1. Is it possible to get the Constructive Feedback Form as a modifiable document, so that I can use it electronically? It seems to download as a pdf. I really like the way it’s set up!

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