Let’s cut to the chase — giving and receiving constructive feedback is hard. Despite good intentions, even the best managers struggle to deliver criticism effectively. And as difficult as it is to give, feedback can be even tougher for employees to hear.
It doesn’t help that our brains love misery. As Stanford professor Clifford Nass explains, “negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events.”
It’s no surprise then that performance reviews can be uncomfortable (and potentially damaging) for everyone involved. To better help managers navigate these conversations, we’ve compiled 21 constructive feedback examples that will drive engagement during your next 1-on-1 or formal performance evaluation.
But before we jump in, let’s take a minute to define what, exactly, makes feedback constructive.
By nature, constructive feedback is…
- Observation-driven and specific. Come prepared with specific examples of the behavior in question to help employees understand exactly where they could have course-corrected.
- Contextualized. Explain why it’s important for the employee to change, both for the good of the team, and their own growth.
- Motivating. When you give constructive criticism or feedback, employees need to know you believe they can improve.
- Actionable. Provide a solution and actionable path toward resolution — and be clear about what you’d like the outcome to be.
- Timely. Address behaviors — positive and negative — with immediate feedback, rather than waiting for a formal review (here’s why).
Need help delivering constructive feedback? Here are 21 examples for every situation:
Tardiness and absenteeism
In many cases, employees who are perpetually late or absent have difficulty self-organizing and may already feel embarrassed.
Resist focusing on the employee as the problem. Instead, call attention to the issue, and help redirect by focusing on the effect the tardiness or absenteeism has on employee’s ability to excel in their day-to-day tasks:
1. “Hey, I noticed you weren’t in our last few morning meetings. I’m concerned that you may have missed some important information, and that it will be difficult for other team members to sync up with you. I’d like to take the time to go over what you missed now. Then, let’s work out a plan together so this doesn’t continue to happen in the future.”
Speaks over others
An employee who speaks over others in meetings can seem rude or overbearing. However, they may feel this exact trait reflects their passion, expertise, or leadership qualities. Appeal to these in feedback or performance reviews:
2. “I appreciated the passion you brought to our last meeting — it’s clear you’re excited about the project. But sometimes, when you get excited, you don’t leave room for others to bring their ideas to the table. In particular, I noticed that you spoke over David and Muriel several times throughout the meeting. Did you notice this, too?
3. “Moving forward, I’d like you to make space for others in conversations and meetings. It’s a necessary skill for your career development and helps utilize the full talents of the team. What do you think?”
Poor communication skills
Communication can be challenging, especially if employees feel intimidated or anxious about the feedback they may receive when they reach out. Encourage communication by setting clear expectations and responding positively to updates. When providing feedback, be sure to explain why continued communication is important, and an integral part of the process.
4. “I really appreciated how you kept me up to date on X project this week — it helped me coordinate with our stakeholders, and I’m excited to share that we’re on track to launch. It’s also great to see your process. I’m impressed with the efficiencies you’re introducing.”
5. “I’m curious about where we are with Y project. What’s going on there? If any issues have come up, it’s best that I know as soon as possible so I can help you get back on target. How about you shoot me daily updates just so I know where we are?”
When giving feedback here, it’s important to recognize that your most engaged employees will already be disappointed in themselves for missing a goal. Acknowledge their disappointment and their hard work, and reframe the issue as a learning experience about goal-setting.
6. “It’d be great to see you take on fewer projects, or narrow your focus to be more attainable. What do you think?”
7. “Your work on X, Y and Z were solid, valuable accomplishments this quarter. I know you didn’t complete every goal you set, and that’s okay — it’s great to see you reach high. But I recognize that it can be discouraging, too. So let’s take this opportunity to rethink your goals moving forward.”
Remember, effective goal-setting doesn’t happen just once a year. Be sure to address and adjust goals in your check-ins and 1-on-1s.
Attention to detail
Mistakes happen, especially in busy workplaces with fast-flying deadlines. If an employee is regularly missing details, give this a try. Remember to cite specific examples to help the employee see where you’re coming from — you can help provide a valuable perspective shift, and suggest a solution.
8. “You know I’ve always appreciated your grasp of our larger vision, and it’s great that you see big-picture. But you’ve missed out on some smaller details in your last few projects, like X and Y. Unfortunately, that ultimately set the team back because they had to correct those oversights.”
9. “I’d love for you to keep that big-picture vision while working on those little blind spots. For your next project, let’s put together a detailed checklist of all your deliverables to make sure you don’t miss anything. Give it a shot, then let’s follow up and reassess from there.”
Time management and missed deadlines
Time management issues can signal disorganization or unrealistic ambition. In both cases, focus on this as an opportunity for professional growth:
10. “I can’t help but notice that this is the third deadline that’s caught up to you this month. I understand this is a fast-paced environment, and I think you’d be more effective if we rethought your time management strategies.”
11. “Thanks for letting me know you’re running behind schedule on this project. Let’s take a look at your goals and see how you’re spending your time — I bet there are opportunities for efficiencies there.”
Failure to problem-solve on one’s own
Team work makes the dream work. But an effective employee also feels empowered to take the initiative and solve problems — and when they don’t, they can slow and distract others on the job.
You could get them a rubber duck. Or, highlight their competencies to help these birdies feel confident stretching their wings:
12. “You did a fantastic job facilitating collaboration with your teammates last week, but I did worry that you may have derailed Howie by seeking his help with X. I’ve seen you work, and I’m confident that if you’d thought about it a little longer, you could have come up with a solution on your own. I know you can do it. Do you believe you can?”
13. “For your next project, it’d be great to see you tap into your resourcefulness and apply it to problem-solving before reaching out to others. Try sitting with an issue for 15 minutes before you reach out to anybody else — and if this doesn’t work, check in with me and we can come up with a plan of attack.”
If an employee’s performance has dropped, there could be any number of reasons — from personal life changes to disengagement. The underlying cause will change the conversation, so address the topic generally:
14. “I wanted to check in and see how things are going. You don’t seem to be quite as engaged at work lately — is there something I can do to help you get back on track? I’d like to keep you happy here. Let’s set a time to review your goals and responsibilities and make sure we’re on the same page.”
Toxic or demoralizing attitude
Address toxicity in the workplace swiftly, before employee negativity demoralizes your team. Emphasize that you’re listening to the employee and want to be helpful — but also be clear about the impact of their behavior, not yours, on the team and company.
15. “I’m glad we’re taking the time to check-in. I feel like you haven’t been as happy at work lately. How do you feel? Is there something I can do to help you have a better experience here?”
16. “I appreciate your input. When you have an issue, it’s helpful for me and the team if you share it with me so I can address it. That’s a positive, productive move. If you talk to your teammates about your issues, I can’t help you solve them, and it creates an atmosphere of negativity.”
17. “Let me know what I can do to ensure that you feel comfortable bringing your feedback to me in the future.”
Learn more about managing toxic employees in our Manager Masterclass.
A little “harmless gossip” is rarely that. A few whispered words can rapidly snowball into morale-reducing drama. If you learn an employee has been gossiping, address them directly and privately:
18. “I know there are a lot of rumors flying around about X, and I know you’re concerned about it. I value your trust and contributions here, so I’d like to set the record straight and explain what I can.”
19. “I understand your feelings, and I know it’s frustrating when you feel your questions aren’t being answered. In the future, though, please bring your concerns directly to me. When you share them with your teammates, it creates a company culture of fear and negativity without providing answers.”
Emotional intelligence and rudeness
In a dream world, IQ and EQ would go hand in hand. In reality, great minds don’t think alike — and sometimes, especially in busy offices, they clash like titans. When addressing workplace rudeness and conflict, avoid making the employee feel ganged up on, and emphasize that you’re listening:
20. “Hey, I wanted to check-in and see how you felt about your work this week. Samika mentioned that you used a sarcastic tone with her in a meeting and it made her uncomfortable. We need to be able to function as a team, and I was hoping to hear your side of the story to see if everything is okay.“
21. “This morning you left our team meeting early. I could tell you were frustrated by the discussion, but walking out on your teammates doesn’t show them the same respect they show you during the conflict. How can we find a solution moving forward?”
What about positive feedback examples?
We often focus on redirecting negative behaviors. But recognizing and reinforcing positive workplace performance is just as important, if not more. Integrally, it helps create a culture in which feedback is welcomed rather than dreaded — a culture open to dynamic, positive growth.
Drive employee engagement by reinforcing positive behaviors with affirmative feedback and public recognition. Here are some examples of everyday positive actions you can give meaningful feedback and encouragement for.
- Demonstrating leadership skills
- Providing a morale booster
- Being supportive and helpful
- Attending training or pursuing professional development
- Caring for the workspace
- Being a safety leader
- Facilitating a positive customer interaction
- Taking initiative on a project
- Receiving a positive customer review
Ready to take your management skills to the next level?
Employee feedback is just one part of the management puzzle.
If you’re interested in learning how Kazoo’s Employee Experience Platform helps managers set and track employee goals, publicly recognize direct reports, and keep a pulse on team morale, check out our overview video or schedule a demo today.