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How to Give Constructive Feedback That Actually Empowers Others Learn how feedback can transform even negative situations into opportunities for growth-characterize feedback as a catalyst for progress.

By Murali Nethi Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Providing good feedback to colleagues is important for professional and personal growth. Yet for many people, giving feedback can be uncomfortable and even anxiety-inducing. You worry about offending others, saying the "wrong" thing, or coming across as too critical. But avoiding difficult feedback conversations prevents opportunities for improvement and stagnates workplace performance. The key is learning how to structure and deliver feedback in a sensitive yet impactful manner.

With practice, uncomfortable feedback discussions get easier, and you'll see that thoughtfully pointing out both strengths and growth areas helps people develop, strengthens relationships and ultimately makes you a better colleague and leader.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Use Effective Feedback to Stay Resilient and Agile

Focus on behavior, not personality

When providing feedback, focus on specific behaviors and actions that someone can change, rather the person's innate qualities. For example, say "The last report had many typos and formatting errors" rather than "Your work is usually sloppy." This keeps the feedback professional, constructive and actionable.

Related: Employee Feedback Is Only Effective If It's Done Right. Here's How to Make Sure It Lands.

Preserve the relationship

Even necessary criticism should maintain the other person's dignity and self-esteem. Start by acknowledging strengths and good intentions. Explain the purpose behind your comments. As I mentioned earlier, focus on the work, not the person.

Four key principles underlie high-quality feedback:

1. Specificity — Call out concrete examples of what the person did well or poorly. Saying "You did a great job" lacks meaning. But saying, "You handled that difficult client conversation very skillfully by focusing on shared interests," will leave a more lasting impression.

2. Timeliness — The sooner you give feedback, the more accurately the other person will remember the situation and the more useful your comments will be. Delays can lead to misunderstandings. Aim to provide feedback within a day or two of an event or interaction.

If you frequently work with someone, aim to provide feedback on an ongoing or routine basis rather than just at major milestones. Regular feedback is also seen as more credible and encourages better habits early.

3. Relevance — Your feedback should relate directly to the person's work responsibilities and goals. Avoid getting personal or venturing into areas beyond your purview. Stick to professional issues that can be improved through feedback.

4. Empathy — Showing genuine care and concern for the other person puts them at ease and makes them more receptive to your message. Start by acknowledging their good intentions, then explain how their approach could be refined.

Provide honest yet tactful feedback that considers the other person's feelings. Avoid shaming, harsh language or hyperbole — even if the feedback is critical. A more empathetic tone is kinder and keeps the discussion constructive. Phrases like "I know you put a lot of work into this but ..." can soften critical feedback.

Highlight specific examples

Back up your feedback with concrete examples and specifics wherever possible. Saying, "Your presentation lacked structure" is vague, but "The introduction didn't set up the topics in a logical order" points to a clearer action the person can take. Examples make the feedback feel real and highlight areas for improvement.

Suggest alternative behaviors

Don't just point out what someone did wrong - also propose positive alternatives they could try next time. Saying, "You reacted aggressively during that exchange," is less useful than "Taking a moment to calm down before responding likely would have produced a better outcome." This gives the person practical options to implement your feedback.

Related: 9 Ways That will Help Promote Actionable Feedback in Your Organization

Be Solution-Focused

Avoid dwelling on past mistakes and instead focus your feedback on finding constructive solutions. Phrases like "Next time, try .." or "In the future, it would be better to ... " help make the feedback about moving forward productively. This keeps the discussion positive and solution-oriented.

Use "I" statements and listen actively

Frame your feedback using "I" statements that are less accusatory and more impartial. For example, "I felt the introduction lost people" instead of "You lost people with that introduction." This makes the feedback about your perspective rather than an attack on the person. It also increases the chances they will be receptive.

After giving your feedback, actively listen to the other person's response and perspective. Ask open-ended questions, paraphrase what they say, and resist the urge to interrupt. This shows that you value their thoughts and are more interested in a genuine exchange than being "right."

Related: 10 Telltale Phrases That Indicate Somebody Isn't Telling the Truth

Follow up on progress

After providing feedback, check in periodically to see if the person found it useful and how they plan to implement it. Offer additional suggestions or clarification if needed. This shows you're invested in truly helping them improve, demonstrating your value as a colleague and mentor.

With these principles in mind, your feedback will help others improve and reflect well on you as a thoughtful leader. If you're looking for a more streamlined way to manage feedback and performance reviews for your team, consider using Hana Retail as your point-of-sale system.

Murali Nethi

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO & Founder

Murali K. Nethi is the founder and CEO of SnapBlooms, a flower-delivery marketplace. His 24-plus-year background in enterprise architecture and IT allows him to explore business solutions in the retail industry.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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