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Giving constructive feedback – how to do it right

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FeedbackGiving constructive feedback is harder than many people think! What approach should we take – softly, softly or direct? How should we frame the feedback? When is the best time to give it? These and many more considerations need to be taken into account and I will share with you my recommendations for providing constructive feedback in the form of a handy acronym BOOSTTM, which also outlines the way people should feel afterwards, irrespective of content.

First let’s set the scene, what is feedback? It is defined as

“Information provided about performance, behaviour or task accomplishment used as a basis for improvement.”

All feedback should be constructive ie. helpful

Ken Blanchard coined the phrase that ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions!’ How can people get better if they don’t know where they’re falling down? Giving effective feedback ensures clarity around expectations, progress and builds stronger relationships.

Let’s look at our acronym. Feedback should be:

  • Balance

Balance is the key to effectiveness. We need to hear positive feedback as well as constructive feedback so we get both outlooks. This does not necessarily have to occur at the same time and is sometimes more effective if each type of feedback is delivered at different times.

Research shows that the classic ‘feedback sandwich’ approach where we deliver positive feedback followed by constructive feedback followed by positive feedback has limited use for a number of reasons:

  1. Starting with a positive does not actually reduce the defensiveness for which it is designed
  2. The model is so well known that people expect the format
  3. Leaving the person with a positive can also potentially leave the person confused if the point of the feedback is improvement.

So, better to separate positive and constructive feedback and be quite direct.

Balance Is Key To Effectiveness

  • Objective

Constructive feedback should be factual and objective and not delivered as a personal attack. The language we use has an impact on this. We should use objective language as opposed to inflammatory language so instead of saying “ you’re approaching it all wrong” which is accusatory, we might say “let’s look at a different approach”

  • Opportunities for improvementGrowth

The intent of constructive feedback should always be to help someone improve their performance or behavior, therefore it needs to include actionable goals or a solution. Eg “What I would like to see is the template I’ve provided used for all future reports. This will ensure consistency”

Feedback should never be about assigning blame or wallowing in the problem, it’s much more constructive to focus on a solution or way forward. It’s also useful to get the other person involved in the solution by asking questions like “What do you think the way forward is?” “How could we improve this?”

  • Specific

General statements like “you’re not open to change’ or “you need to improve your attitude” will only lead to defensive behavior and back and forth arguments. In order to deliver feedback successfully, we need to spell out what the issue is by giving specific examples, hard evidence or facts. So instead of saying “you’re not open to change” we might say ”I’ve noticed that when new ideas about how we function as a team are presented for example when Jenny suggested we spend 5 minutes every morning checking everyone’s schedules, they are quickly dismissed as useless. I’d like …. This will enable the other party to understand your views before moving onto a solution.

  • Timely

There is no point giving feedback about something that happened 3 weeks ago as the other person will likely have forgotten, or saving things up for the performance appraisal which is a big no-no. As a general rule of thumb feedback should be given as soon after the event as possible so it’s fresh in everyone’s minds. The proviso being that the person is not in emotional state and therefore not open to feedback.

There is a useful model called SBI that stands for  that helps provide a framework or structure to both positive and constructive feedback. This video explains it well.

Timely Feedback

For more information on ‘Giving Constructive Feedback’ training, please contact


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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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