How to Give Constructive Feedback

You know, one of the first counseling sessions I received as a leader was also one of the toughest.  I learned that I was falling short of my commander’s expectations in several ways, and it was hurting the team.  When it was over, I ended up thanking my commander and was determined to get better.

But I was also thinking, “He just raked me over the coals, and here I am thanking him for it.  How did he do that?”

Today we’ll look at how you can give constructive feedback that gets to the point, and do it in a way that your teammate will be receptive and willing to act on what you talk about.


Breakfast of Champions

Dr. Ken Blanchard has called feedback the “breakfast of champions.”  A steady diet of objective input helps to remove blinders and keep the team moving forward in the right direction.

Part of your job as a leader is to provide some of this feedback (both positive and negative) to your teammates.  But the negative “constructive” stuff can be hard for people to hear.

To be effective, first you have to set the conditions.

First: Set the Conditions

Here are six things to think about before you decide to have that conversation.

  1. Do it when you are calm and unemotional. Yelling and banging your fist on the desk may get short term results but rarely fixes the underlying problem. Stay calm, make it a conversation.
  2. Do it sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more you miss an opportunity to fix something before it gets any further off track.  As soon as you can, take a deep breath, and get it done.
  3. Do it privately. People generally don’t appreciate being criticized in public – it’s a hit on their esteem, puts them on the defensive, and makes it harder to have an open discussion.
  4. Focus on the behavior (not the person). Anything that sounds like a personal attack will immediately bring up the defensive shields; keep your focus on the actions that can be changed.
  5. ID the specific problem or concern. Saying, “your work stinks” doesn’t give him anything to go on.  It’s more helpful if you can state what specifically needs to be addressed.
  6. ID impact on the team/mission. Be able to state specifically why the behavior is hurting the team.  This keeps the discussion focused on the mission, as it should be.

When you can do all these things, it’s time to get face to face and have the conversation.

Give Constructive Feedback

Here are seven steps you can follow to have a useful constructive feedback session with your teammate.

  1. Introduction – Get their attention, set a time expectation, and move to a place of privacy.

 “Hey, do you have a couple minutes, I’d like to talk with you about something”

  1. Identify the specific behavior problem, using “I” not “you” – the goal here is to be objective; if you state things from your perspective, it is less offensive, and harder for the other person to refute your personal observation.

“I’ve noticed that you seem to be coming later and later to work”

 “I’m concerned about what look like three errors I found in this report”

    3.  State the impact on the team or mission.

“When this happens, we can’t open on time and serve the customers”

“We make key decisions based on this report, so it has to be accurate.”

  1. Get confirmation , then pause to get their perspective. You are looking for feedback that they understood what you said, and you want to understand if there is anything to be aware of before proceeding.

 “Does that make sense to you?”

“Can you see how this is a big deal?”

“Is that a fair assessment of the facts?”

In responding, they MAY try to redirect your focus or make an excuse (“I’m not the only one who is late…”) but if what they say doesn’t change the facts, keep the conversation focused on them and what THEY can control.

  1. Identify a solution.  You can give them the answer if you think you have to, but it is much more powerful if you let them come up with it themselves…guide them with some open ended questions if necessary.

“What can you do to avoid being late in the future??”

“What can you do differently on the next project so this doesn’t happen again?”

  1. Affirm. Agree about the steps to be taken, and how they will help the team and mission.

“I think that’s a good plan and I’m sure if you do those things, we’ll all be better off.”

  1. End with a hand shake and a vote of confidence.

“Overall you are doing fine and I’m glad to have you as part of our team.”

The Takeaway

The best constructive feedback comes when it is objective and given under conditions that ensure the receiver is willing to listen and act on the discussion.

You can achieve this by focusing on specific behaviors, speaking in terms of the impact on the mission or team, and getting their input as part of the solution.

In this way, you are more likely to have a productive conversation that leads to increased understanding and better performance.

As a final note, feedback can be both negative and positive.  If you make it the norm to provide both kinds of feedback on a regular basis – a steady diet , that “breakfast of champions”- , then it will be much easier to have these tougher conversations when a particular behavior needs to change.


Thank you for joining me, I hope these tips are helpful to you. I’m looking forward to producing more of these videos every week as a way to grow your leadership expertise .

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And as an added bonus, you can get a free copy of my eBook “Build your Personal Power Base – 30 Tips to Becoming an Influential Leader in Your World”, – click the link here if you think that would be useful to you.

Once again, thanks for checking in, I hope this helps you wherever you are on your leadership journey.

Take care.

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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