Leadership

How prepared are you to offer constructive feedback?

By Shannon Reese

Preparing to make dinner is more than just putting food on a plate. It’s thinking about the meal I want to create, finding the recipe, shopping for ingredients and staging my cooking steps. It’s also considering my “audience” at the table and making sure that they will receive what I have prepared… even if it is Brussels sprouts! (By the way, bacon and maple syrup makes all the difference with Brussels sprouts!)

A meal that is well-received and appreciated is the result of considerable preparation.

Similar to meal preparation, constructive feedback that is well-received (maybe even appreciated) is the result of some preparation.

In my leadership roles, I am often required to provide constructive feedback to those I lead; some ask for it and others don’t. In either case, it can be difficult. As a Christian, I want my input to be wise, my motivations to be pure and my delivery to be grace-filled. But it’s hard to predict how the other person will respond.

When I think about providing feedback to those I lead, these wise words from Scripture direct me: 

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6)

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in the right circumstances. (Proverbs 25:11)

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

So, what is constructive feedback? 

Constructive feedback is written or verbal content provided to another with the intention of building up the receiver through correction or realignment; encouraging him/her to improve or develop in new and different ways producing greater growth and maturity. The goal of constructive feedback is never to tear down or discourage the one receiving it; it should always be to help the receiver be or do better.

How can you (and I) prepare to give constructive feedback?

Begin in prayer. Talk with God about what you have observed and how it relates to the context of the situation. Ask yourself, Is the feedback I have helpful? Does it need to be said?Did I observe something that happened once and is likely not to be repeated or is this a pattern? What are my motivations in providing feedback? In prayer, ask God to reveal to you any details that may shed additional light on what you observed. Ask God for His wisdom and perspective. 

Consider the timing. Knowing when to provide constructive feedback is almost as important as the content that is shared. You want the receiver to hear and process your feedback. When you have feedback to offer, consider the person you lead. What environment is best for them to receive your feedback? In a formal setting? Or an informal setting? Do you already have a regular meeting established in which constructive feedback is natural? Would it be better to give them feedback at the beginning of the day? At the end of the day? After they’ve eaten or before?

Consider the method. Think about one person to whom you need to give constructive feedback. Does he/she respond better to feedback in person or in an email? Can the feedback be shared in the context of a team meeting? Or is it better to share the feedback in private? Ultimately the goal is that feedback be received well. Considering the best timing and method gives the greatest opportunity for that to happen. If you are unsure, it may be helpful to ask those you lead how they best receive constructive feedback, even before you need to offer it. 

Start with praise; end with gratitude. People rarely hear that they are doing well or that others are grateful for them. So, take this opportunity to be the one to do that. Prepare to express what you have noticed and admired about this person. Prepare to state a few ways that you have observed them doing their job well. Communicate the impact their efforts have on others. Then later, after you’ve offered your feedback, thank them for the time and energy they’ve expended. 

Focus on the solution. The goal of constructive feedback is to build up another person; to help him/her be or do better. Rather than begin and end with the problem you see, state the problem and offer some solutions. It may take some time for you to think through some different solutions before you meet but it is time well spent. Often, people who need constructive feedback don’t know how to do something different; your solution may be an idea the’ve never thought of before and give them confidence to move in a new direction. Giving solution-based feedback will also communicate to the feedback receiver that you want them to succeed and be the best in their role. 

Prepare to be part of the solution. Whatever you can do to be part of the solution, do it! Maybe it’s helping the feedback receiver set up new patterns for effectiveness. Maybe it’s advocating for the change that comes as a result of your feedback. Maybe it’s modeling the behavior you want to see as a result or your input. Consider how you can come alongside and encourage those you lead so they are even more effective as you pursue the purpose and vision together.

As a Christian woman leading, preparing to offer constructive feedback is the best way to ensure that you move forward with grace and truth as you seek to help those you lead grow.

Consider:

  • Which of the verses above do you need to remember when preparing to give constructive feedback?
  • In the past, how have you prepared to give constructive feedback? Is it similar or different than what is being suggested above? 
  • Which of these preparations do you need to embrace the next time you need to give constructive feedback?

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