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How to Give Critical Feedback Without Being Critical

Knowing how to give critical feedback, also known as constructive feedback or negative feedback, is an essential part of being an effective leader.

In order to help people learn and grow, and start building high performing teams, you need to be able to provide them with feedback in situations where they fall short of performance expectations or don’t show up as their best selves.

What is Critical Feedback?

At its best, critical feedback is received as a gift and an indicator that you care about the other person’s growth. At its worst, it can be interpreted as criticism or judgment.

While you ultimately can’t control how someone receives feedback, you can take steps to increase the chances that critical feedback will be received positively.

Criticism vs Feedback: The Difference Between “Being Critical” and Giving Constructive Feedback

When we are “being critical” of someone, our focus is on pointing out what they’re doing wrong. We become critical rather than helpful when we share feedback from a position of “being right.”

Instead, constructive feedback should be focused on sharing objective information about how someone’s specific actions negatively impacted us or their work in order to achieve a goal. When we share feedback in this way, we overcome the “Feedback Fallacy,” or the tendency to forget that feedback is our perception rather than absolute truth.

Critical Feedback Examples: Follow the EAR Model

So how can we give more objective, constructive feedback? The EAR model is a useful tool for mapping out critical feedback examples in a clear, objective manner. We recommend using it to craft your piece of feedback before entering the conversation. 

E stands for Environment. The first thing you need to do when giving critical feedback is to get the other person on the same page about the specific event you’re referring to. The best way to start that conversation is by sharing information about the context in which you experienced the behavior.

For example:  “Yesterday, right before the weekly meeting with the Senior Leadership team.”

A stands for Action. Next, you want to share the observable behavior or action that had a negative impact on you or the employee’s performance. With this step, be sure to stick to what you heard and saw. 

For example: “You asked me if I could please present the weekly update because you weren’t feeling prepared.”

R stands for Result. Sharing the result is a way of letting the employee know how their actions impacted you or their work in a negative way. This is not criticism of the employee’s actions, but rather data that they can use to make a different choice in the future.

For example: “I felt shocked and concerned because we had discussed it the previous day and you told me you felt prepared.”

In this example, the manager has delivered critical feedback without being critical. By sticking to the facts and sharing their experience, they stayed out of criticism and opened the door to a valuable conversation.

Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback without Being Critical

  • Role model receiving feedback from others in positive and playful ways. Share a mistake you made that others witnessed, and ask for feedback on “how it could have been worse!” to make sharing feel safe.
  • Outside of performance reviews and formal conversations, ask for permission before delivering critical feedback. By asking permission, you are helping the receiver to get in the right mindset and showing respect for their experience. If the employee says “no,” ask them when a better time might be and hold them accountable to what they say. 
  • After delivering critical feedback, listen appreciatively to the employee’s perspective on the situation. When we deliver negative feedback, we want the employee to listen openly and consider our point of view. By taking the time to ask open-ended questions and understand the employee’s perspective, we are showing mutual respect and consideration for their point of view.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Delivering effective feedback can feel intimidating, and the nervousness that comes along with it can get in the way of having a productive conversation. To become more comfortable, practice delivering critical feedback in low-stakes environments with people you trust. Ask them for feedback and suggestions on how to improve your delivery.

Learn More About How to Give Constructive Feedback to Your Team

Need help giving critical feedback? Ziksana offers a play-based training program on how to give feedback, both in-person and virtually.

Through fun activities, leaders practice delivering critical feedback using Ziksana’s EAR model in a low-stakes environment. This training program helps leaders gain confidence in their ability to give critical feedback while having fun and connecting with others! 

Contact us or check out our EMPOWER program to learn more about delivering effective performance feedback or read more about performance coaching and sand other topics on our blog.

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