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Constructive feedback: tips and examples you can use today

Written by Gabe Scorgie | May 1, 2024 6:46:00 PM

Truly constructive feedback is something of an art. It involves feedback that’s limited to pointing out areas for improvement in a way that’s specific, actionable, and probably most importantly, helpful. 

With that in mind, the following will provide you with everything you need to know about giving and receiving constructive feedback and understanding the difference between criticism and crafting clear messages.

What is constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is guidance intended to improve, elevate, correct, or otherwise help an employee recognize their weaknesses for the purpose of growing in their role. It could be delivered top-down, bottom-up, or peer-to-peer and is meant to help the recipient achieve positive outcomes and address areas of improvement. 

When done right, constructive feedback can improve employee morale, keep employees engaged, and improve relationships amongst collaborators.

The difference between criticism and feedback

First of all, it could probably be said that criticism is necessary at times, but it focuses solely on flaws and mistakes. And it’s often blunt, judgmental, and can leave the recipient feeling discouraged. So how is constructive feedback different? Consider the following:

  • Focus: Criticism tends to dwell on the problem and typically offers little to no guidance for improvement. On the other hand, constructive feedback identifies the issue while at the same time suggesting solutions or actions for moving forward.
  • Delivery: Criticism is often phrased in a way that it attacks a person’s character or abilities. But constructive feedback is specific and objective — it only focuses on the behavior or work, never been the individual.
  • Impact: As mentioned at the outset, many of us have been stung by something that was supposed to be feedback. If that’s the case, it probably wasn’t feedback. It was criticism, which is often demoralizing and has the ability to shut down communication. Constructive feedback aims to be helpful — it builds up, it does not tear down.

Here’s an example. Criticism is like saying, “Your painting is terrible.” But if someone was offering constructive feedback, they might say something like, “The colors in the foreground seem to be a bit dull. Have you considered using brighter tones — something that would make your subject pop?”

In either example, the speaker pointed out a potential issue, but the second approach offered a path for improvement, which makes it significantly more helpful.

AID feedback model

You might've heard of the "sandwich method" of providing feedback. You start with a compliment, put some feedback in the middle, and finish  with another  compliment. You know, like a sandwhich.

Because everyone knows about this model, the compliments  can often come off as forced or inauthentic.  

In contrast, we have the AID model, which offers a simpler and more direct way of delivering constructive feedback: 

  • Action: This step focuses on observing and stating the facts. At this point, you describe the specific behavior or action you witnessed. For example, “During today’s meeting, you mentioned you were still finalizing the report.”
  • Impact: In this step, you explain the impact of the action. How did it affect the situation or anyone who was involved in it? Using the previous example, you could say something like, “This caused some confusion, as the team was expecting to see the final data today.”
  • Desired outcome: At this point, you want to express your desired outcome. Perhaps you could explain what you’d like to see happen differently in the future. Something like this: “Moving forward, could you please let us know you need more time to complete a report before a meeting starts?”

Using this clear, concise approach allows you to address the issue directly, while still remaining objective and solution-oriented.

10 examples of constructive feedback

When preparing your constructive feedback session, choose your words carefully. You don’t want to erode someone’s dignity and make them defensive by coming off with strong accusations.

Here are some ways to provide constructive feedback:

1. Poor time management

Example:  I’ve noticed that it’s been taking you longer than expected lately to complete your tasks. I understand that our workload has been heavier, but getting things done on time is important for the team’s progress. Is there anything I can do to help you manage your time more efficiently?

2. Bad Attitude

Example: I noticed that you had some resistance when we were discussing new strategies during the team meeting. I know that change can be challenging, but this new direction can push us forward. What can we do to support you during this change?

3. Lack of attention to detail

Example: I noticed some inconsistencies in the report that was submitted last week. I know your workload has been high, but we need accuracy for our analysis. How can we work together to help maintain the quality of our work?

4. Poor communication

Example: It’s come to my attention that your emails sometimes lack clarity, and that makes it challenging for the team to follow up. Since clear communication is an important part of our collaboration, can we discuss some ways to improve this?

5. Missed deadlines

Example: I’ve noticed a few projects have been delayed recently, and unfortunately that impacts the team’s progress. I know you’re working hard, but meeting deadlines is essential for our success. What can we do to plan ahead and avoid this in the future?

6. Overly critical

Example: During our last review meeting, I noticed some strong criticisms. I know how deeply you care about quality, but a more balanced approach would help maintain a positive work environment. What can we do to make sure feedback is handled more constructively?

7. Lack of initiative

Example: I’ve noticed that you tend to wait for direction instead of taking initiative when dealing with certain tasks. I know it can be intimidating to take charge, but a proactive approach — not to mention your insights — would benefit the team. How can I support you in this?

8. Inconsistent performance

Example: I’ve noticed that there’s been some fluctuations in your performance recently. We all have off days, but consistency is key to the success of our team. Can we talk about what’s causing these changes?

9. Uncooperative behavior

Example: I’ve noticed sometimes that you push back when it comes to collaboration. I understand that there can be disagreements with team members, but working together is vital. How can we improve this?

10.Poor prioritization

Example: I’ve noticed that some urgent tasks have been delayed because of a focus on less critical work. I understand that balancing different tasks can be tricky, but prioritization is important. How can we work together on planning and organizing your workload?

10 consideration before giving feedback

1. Determine if it’s necessary

 As you prepare to deliver your constructive feedback, you’re going to need to evaluate whether or not it’s really necessary. What might seem like a glaring performance issue one day may be corrected on its own the next. For example, if one of your employees was late a few days in a row, and they’ve apologized or provided a reason, don’t automatically assume that this is now a recurring issue that requires a stern talking-to and swift action on your part.

Take a step back and determine if the issue, weakness, or outcome is worth a feedback session. If it’s not, you might run the risk of unnecessarily stressing out the recipient. 

Another way to approach this is to identify what you want the conversation to achieve. Do you expect they’ll change their behavior afterward? Will this be a productive conversation or not? These are questions to ask yourself before you jump into things.

2. Prepare beforehand and set the tone

For feedback to be constructive, you’re going to need to cite concrete examples and deliver your feedback as carefully and tactfully as you can. Doing your homework means knowing the ins and outs of the situation before you have that difficult conversation.

Since constructive feedback probably shouldn’t be delivered off the cuff, this means you’ll need to prepare beforehand. Gather facts and use examples (both positive and negative as applies), statistics, and other verifiable evidence to substantiate your claims about the person’s specific behavior.

3. Assess yourself and your involvement

Figure out if you play a role in this problem. Are you trying your hardest to objectively evaluate the person you’ll be delivering feedback to? This means eliminating any chance of speaking from your personal feelings and being impartial to the impact of the task and work itself. 

Your feedback should be honest and genuine, and so should your offer to help. Are there opportunities for you to better support and enable them so they can better succeed? If so, evaluate the matter as a team, rather than pointing fingers at one single collaborator. 

4.  Brainstorm solutions to the problem

Can you guide this person towards an answer to the problem, and if so, is it a productive answer? If the person acts on the suggestion, will they (and your working relationship) be better off for it? 

Make an effort to be there for the person, should they need you, as they work to overcome weaknesses and grow in their role. 

When we’ve noticed something concerning, our gut reaction is often to criticize without even considering existing problem-solving efforts. It’s essential to offer feedback when we can, sharing actionable advice to help the person arrive at work with better solutions. Otherwise, it just turns into destructive feedback. 

5. Focus on the work, not the person

When you give constructive feedback, you want to show the person that you’re there to help, not bring them down. As you give your feedback, make sure you frame the nature of the problem purely in professional terms, citing real examples. 

This means avoiding mention of personality or character traits and instead clearly explaining that this is a solvable work-related issue that you want to help them overcome. You don’t want your goodwill to come across as a personal attack or biased opinion.

6. Know the right time and place to address situations

When it comes to feedback or action items related to a specific project, don't wait days or weeks to give someone feedback on their work. A constructive conversation will only be relevant if the matter at hand is fresh in both your minds. Speak about the challenges, processes, and ideas to take note of in future projects while the reference is still top of mind. 

You also want to avoid delivering public comments in group settings such as team meetings. This might lead employees to feel humiliated if they’re given negative feedback in front of other team members. As the golden rule says, praise in public but criticize in private. 

7. Keep it professional and sincere 

It’s important to be transparent with your intentions to support. Receiving constructive feedback, especially multiple layers of talking points, could be mentally draining. When an employee misinterprets feedback, the feeling of being misunderstood can lead to them shutting down or resenting the presenter. 

8. Balance the positive and the negative 

A balanced perspective provides a few positive pieces of feedback to let people know what they’re doing right while discussing things that may not have met expectations. Many managers like to use the feedback burger framework (positive feedback-negative-positive) to address issues while also motivating their employees to uphold existing strengths. 

9. Have a gameplan and follow up 

Now that you’ve offered positive, constructive feedback, round up the action items and offer to keep the recipient accountable. Hopefully, you’re on the same page regarding future expectations, so help them figure out the next steps, set goals, and check in to revisit their progress. If you’re in a position to mentor someone, you’ll need to follow through with regular meetings or touchpoints.

10. Establish an open, trusting relationship by welcoming feedback

Promoting healthy discussion is one way to cultivate psychological safety in the workplace. Show vulnerability and reciprocity by inviting constructive feedback yourself. You’ve offered a new perspective and given valuable insights into how they can improve. Why not ask for their guidance on your work? 

Delivering feedback in a remote workforce 

As leaders continue to work through how to best navigate virtual interactions with employees, here are a few quick things to take note of: 

  • Check your biases. Leaders need to be aware of how remote and in-person interactions lead to a digital divide, where those at the offices are often more favorable. 
  • Be empathetic and consider the unique circumstances of your employee. You never know what people and their families are going through.
  • Choose your channels wisely and stay away from text as it’s easy to misinterpret. Try to use real-time, synchronous tools, so you’re not the only speaker able to access body language and are available to answer any questions. 
  • Pay extra attention to be prompt and specific. If you can’t get ahold of an employee, reach out for a time to connect about this task. Tie actions back to goals so that you can evaluate what they've completed. 

Learn how to receive constructive feedback

1. Recognize that constructive feedback is good for you

You’re not perfect, not even close. You’re human and prone to mistakes and weaknesses, just like everyone else. Sometimes we forget that, and that’s why we should welcome constructive feedback every now and again. 

Besides, furthering your career means you’re always learning and developing new (and sometimes old) skills. Constructive feedback plays a significant part in that growth process. So, try not to be too defensive.

Sure, it’s not going to feel great to confront your weaknesses head-on like that, but this person is also doing you a service by guiding you to a solution, which is more valuable than you can imagine. Many times, we already know the issue, but when we hear it come out of someone else’s mouth, that’s often the kick in the pants we need to finally take action. Eventually, as you progress in your career, you’ll ask for constructive feedback on a regular basis!

2. Listen and ask questions to understand how you can improve

Most importantly, listen attentively to the feedback you’re given. Take notes if you have to. Fight the urge to make an excuse or ask a question until after the person is finished talking. 

Once they’re done, try your best to summarize the problem they’ve identified out loud and ask questions to clarify the specifics. If the problem is legitimate—and let’s be honest, it probably is—try to understand its scope and how you can work through it together.

3. After your feedback session is over, develop a strategy and take action

This means looking at the facts presented, the problem articulated and plotting out a way to proactively improve or remedy the situation. Before you act on your plan, share it with your manager or whoever gave you feedback to see if it could be improved upon. Once your plan is ready to go, get started!


Constructive feedback is really the cornerstone of a well-rounded employee-manager relationship. Ideally, that relationship will allow for feedback to go both ways. It’s important to remember that learning and development is ongoing for all of us, no matter your level in the organization or status in the field. Embrace constructive feedback, and you’ll go far!