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Business Coaching: Using Constructive Feedback vs. Praise and Criticism

One of the responsibilities of business coaches is to give performance feedback to employees. Performance feedback can be given two ways: through constructive feedback or through praise and criticism. Don't fall into the trap of giving praise and criticism on employee performance.

  • Constructive feedback is information-specific, issue-focused, and based on observations. It comes in two varieties:

    Positive feedback is news or input to an employee about an effort well done.

    Negative feedback is news to an employee about an effort that needs improvement. Negative feedback doesn't mean a terrible performance, rather a performance in which the outcomes delivered should be better. So negative isn't a negative word in this case.

  • Praise and criticism are personal judgments about a performance effort or outcome. The information given is general and vague, focused on the person, and based on opinions or feelings.

The following examples help show the difference between constructive feedback (either positive or negative) and praise/criticism:

  • Praise: You did a great job on that project. Good work.

  • Positive feedback: The contributions you made on this project were a big help. I noticed that the work you produced was thorough and accurate. In addition, whenever I needed help in coordinating the team and managing the project schedule, you stepped in and covered for me or gave me assistance, which kept the team and the project on schedule. When team members had questions, you were available to help get them answers. Thanks so much for your contributions in helping make this project a success.

  • Criticism: You were not much help on this project. You were really ineffective. I hope this isn't the best you can do.

  • Negative feedback: Here are the concerns I have regarding your assistance on this project. As I explained at the beginning of the project, your services were needed to help coordinate the project management in terms of keeping people focused on their assignments and on the schedule. I did not see much effort of coordination occurring. For example, many of the team members came to me with questions about assignments and schedule issues, often after they could not get answers from you. Most of the time, I noticed that you were working on your part of the project, but the interactions with the others about the overall project and its progress were not evident. When I asked you to cover for me at three of the meetings, each of the meetings ended after a brief time with no minutes or action items produced. Delays have occurred in the project, and we'll now require everyone's attention to get back on track.

The two types of constructive feedback come across as far more objective, specific, and nonjudgmental than praise and criticism. Because constructive feedback is based on observations in specific terms about issues of performance, it's not a right or wrong.

Constructive feedback encourages a discussion after the person gets the feedback. As a result, you and your employee can learn more about the situation and, if needed, set a positive course of action.

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