How to Give Constructive FeedFORWARD – Part 1

May 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

So why give constructive feedback?  Constructive feedback is given when a behavior or action is ‘off track’ and you want to get it back ‘on track’.  Or you might need a higher level of performance than was achieved.  In one of my workshops I had a manager say that he wanted to learn how to ‘punish people properly’.  

Constructive Feedback

Ok… not what I was going for in a “Feed-FORWARD to Next Time” approach!

In constructive feedback we want them to hear you, buy in, and start a plan for how to change.  But how to do that? (To review the concept of Feedback As Feed-Forward and the purpose of giving feedback go here. And be sure not to miss any posts in the series by subscribing to my blog updates!)

The GROW Model

The best tool I’ve found is the GROW framework.  It creates a great flow of the conversation.  My thanks to John Whitmore and his book, Coaching for Performance.  (This is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to acquire a coaching style in managing the performance of others – Really!  Buy and read this book.)

The flow of a great Feed-FORWARD to Next Time discussion:

  • Start with establishing a GOAL or intent for the conversation
  • Then open the dialogue and ask the other person for their perspective on what been happening:  Their view of REALITY and the Roadblocks that are getting in their way.
  • Next, brainstorm OPTIONS as to what could be done to improve the performance
  • And finally, create a WHAT/WILL action plan for Next Time

So that’s the basic flow.

Check Your Mindset

Before we get started there’s an important step before using the GROW Model. You want to start with checking your mindset (your internal conversation) as to why you are having this conversation:  The feed-FORWARD to Next Time mindset looks like this:

  • Be clear on the purpose of the FeedForward conversation – something like:  “help this person take their performance to the next level” or, “help them modify a behavior that is holding back their optimal performance” (NOT:  punish them properly – oy veh!)
  • Have established a relationship of trust with this individual – they KNOW that I have their best interest in mind
  • Be willing to shift how I see the issue – I don’t know everything that is going on, and I need to listen to their point of view to put all the REALITY on the table
  • Want ownership for action to rest with the person I am giving feedback to – a willingness to let them design the plan for change so they will be committed to take action

If you can say yes, yes, yes, yes, to these four points – you are ready to proceed with the GROW Model feed-FORWARD conversation.


Now let me share a couple of tips for each part of the conversation, so you can avoid some major pitfalls.  I’ll cover GOAL this week – REALITY, OPTIONS and WHAT/WILL next week.

GOAL – set the purpose for the conversation (give it a direction)

I find the trickiest part of a feedback session to be how I open it.  Let’s face it; people can get emotional when receiving constructive feedback (they might even cry!).  So, how can you establish a goal such that defenses stay low and buy-in / commitment to change stays high?  Here’s a few best practices I’ve figured out:

  1. Keep it short – don’t go on and on describing the situation, its impact and why you are upset.  They were there!  They know what happened!  And if you keep rambling on, they are just going to get more nervous or more angry, and certainly more defensive.  Really – you just need about 30 – 60 seconds to open up the conversation:
  2. Give a specific example – don’t be Mr. Bill; people need an example to ensure we are talking about the same thing.  They don’t need a laundry list of examples – that makes them defensive.   Just one concrete example.  I like the SBI approach from the Center of Creative Leadership.  Somewhere in your opening you briefly describe the Situation, their Behavior and the Impact on performance. Again, a short description.
  3. Feed-FORWARD to Next Time – in your opening create supportive, future looking attitude.  You are here to help figure out what can be done to make tomorrow, more effective than today.  A… let’s get this thing figured out attitude.  Let them see this is a growth opportunity and a win-win.
  4. Turn the conversation over to them – Get them talking.  Defenses go down when people get to talk.  As for you, get really curious about their point of view, why they think it is happening.  It is a great sign of support, to deeply listen and understand another person’s perspective
  5. And ONE BIG DON’T – never label their behavior – Do not call people sloppy, lazy, unprofessional or the like.  Labels hurt – people take them to heart – and it’s a hole that is very deep and therefore hard to get out of.  Just describe the behavior – don’t label it!  If you want to learn more about the harm of labeling and name calling – read Dr. John Gottman’s book – Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.  You’ll never call your spouse lazy again (unless you really want to get divorced)

Here’s what your opening template might look like:

Joe, today I’d like to discuss what’s happening with our customer Ms. Jones.  There are some concerns that we may lose the account, so I’d like to figure out what we can do to improve our relationship with the customer.  So, tell, me Joe, from your perspective, what’s been going on?”

Wa-la!  Fill in the italics with your situation and your opening is ready to go!

Your Assignment This Week

Prepare your opening (GOAL) for the constructive feedback conversation you need to have.  Run it by a peer and ask them to give it a rating on how defensive it might make another person feel.  Modify according to the feedback you receive. 

Post your opening in the comments and get feedback from the community too!