Navigating Constructive Criticism: 5 Tips For Managers Who Deliver Feedback

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Who loves performance reviews? Spontaneous feedback? Subtle criticism?  Yeah. Nobody does. Especially managers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Modern managers worth their salt undoubtedly understand the importance of delivering constructive criticism and feedback. They recognize it is essential for learning and growth, as well as advancement in their employees’ careers.  But there is an art to delivering it and lots to consider before putting that meeting invite on your employee’s calendar.

With all this in mind, I recently attended a workshop dedicated to the topic. Titled, ‘The Art of Constructive Criticism,” the session was led by conflict management expert Amanda Dean of Crux Consulting. Anyone second-guessing the value of this 3-hour workshop should take pause right now and consider the following stat Amanda provided at the start session:

“Studies show that managers spend between 3 and 8 hours a week dealing with conflict and most of that conflict is ongoing or persistent.”


The collective brain of my readers upon digesting that statistic.

Sadly, to many in management, this is all too familiar. The biggest takeaway of the session for me was a clear understanding of what is known as the “W-5” method.  Because in addition to helping individuals navigate the tricky minefield of delivering constructive criticism and feedback, the W-5 method challenges managers and encourages them to look inward prior to doling out feedback to members of their team. 

The “W-5” Method for Managers
In a nutshell, the W-5 method is a self-test for managers to administor prior to any instance where they deliver constructive criticism or feedback to a direct report. See below:

  • WHO – Who Is the Person To Whom You Are Delivering Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • At what point in their career is this individual?  
      • Who needs to be in the room while this feedback is delivered?  
      • What style of feedback delivery do you believe will be most effective based on your understanding of/relationship with the individual?
  • WHEN – When Will The Recipient Be Most Receptive?
    • Questions to consider:
      • When will the individual be most receptive?
      • At what point during the day do they tend to operate at peak attentiveness?
      • How immediate/important is the feedback you have to deliver?
  • WHERE – Where Will You Deliver The Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • Where will you deliver the feedback?
      • Hint: Not in a room full of people. Not in the office kitchen. Not in public. Not on a large email with peers copied. Find a conference room or hold the feedback meeting in your office. Remember — treat people the way you would like to be treated.
  • WHAT – What Exactly Do You Need To Say? 
    • Questions to consider:
      • What main points do I want to get across?
      • Hint: Prepare a concise list of the top three points you would like to make sure are addressed in a feedback session. By setting a limit, you are forced to focus on only the most important points. 
  • WHY – Why Are You Providing This Feedback?
    • Questions to consider:
      • What do you hope to gain from delivering this feedback?
      • Hint: Ideally, you are delivering feedback because you are seeking to align expectations and make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to achieving goals.

Not only is the W-5 self-test useful in a professional setting, it is also perfect when gearing up for difficult conversations in your personal life. The reason for this is simple — the W-5 method helps you first get to the root of an issue and then provides guidance on how to successfully manage a conversation around it from start to finish

Additional Observations
Lots of additional ground was covered during the workshop. Here are some of what I found to be the most interesting nuggets from the session. (Several have already been in my arsenal for quite some time.) Hopefully, you will find them equally useful. 

  • Remind your employees regularly they must “speak their need” and never hesitate to ask for guidance, support, assistance in removing roadblocks, etc. If they don’t state a need, it makes it extremely difficult for you to know what they require to move things forward.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to move past an issue with a specific individual, especially if you need to continue working with them after an incident. The solution? Consider how you may be able to shift your expectations. Ask yourself, “How can I adjust my approach with this person in order to achieve team goals?”
  • Don’t make an issue with one of your employees your manager’s problem by dumping it on their desk. Instead, develop a plan to consult with them regarding it.  Come to the table with proactive solutions and an intent to seek advice and consensus. Anything less and you risk appearing both incapable of performing your duties as a manager and appearing problematic yourself.
  • Ask an individual who you are planning to give feedback when they have time to talk. Once that time is established, along with a calendar invite, send a quick agenda so there is an expectation of what will be discussed. This helps “prep” people emotionally in advance of potentially difficult conversations.
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