Constructive feedback is a powerful tool for fruitful collaboration and building strong working relationships in an organisation. Yet, it needs practice and some guidelines so that colleagues benefit from a constructive experience. Workshops are a suitable place to practice constructive feedback through facilitated exercises.
Goal/Learning Objective/Expected Output
Become firmer and more experienced in giving and receiving feedback. Solve critical issues before they become a conflict. Learn to be more honest and authentic to each other, which fosters more acceptance for differences, i.e. diversity.
Way/level of dealing with subject at stake
Partner reflection, direct feedback, safe exchange.
Application in moderation cycle
In the middle and towards the end of a cycle.
Level of difficulty
Can be either internal or external. Facilitation is especially needed for clarifying the practice and guidelines for feedback. In one-on-one settings it is less necessary to have facilitation; in group settings aware and empathetic facilitation is crucial. Furthermore, feedback has a close link to conflict transformation. The more sensitive feedback becomes, the more external facilitation becomes helpful to moderate the process.
Giving and receiving feedback
Often we are not used to giving or receiving feedback. We therefore need to learn and practice it to benefit from its potential. Giving feedback means to share what we observe about another person in a way that it is nurturing and supporting, and possibly expands that person’s knowledge about themself. For the receiver to be able to receive the feedback, the giver needs to express it quite deliberately. There are a few helpful suggestions for making feedback come across as constructive and helpful.
- Feedback is not about criticising the other person; it is about giving them an external perspective on their behaviour, attitudes or performance. This will include feedback that is perhaps difficult to hear. However, it is fair to the receiver also to receive positive feedback.This allows the receiver to be more open to critical feedback, since they realise they will receive positive messages as well.
- Give feedback in a way that expresses your personal perspective and does not generalise (‘I’ve seen you putting a lot of energy into that project’ instead of ‘You invest much energy in that project’).
- Imagine you are receiving your feedback – could you accept it easily because it is expressed in a constructive way?
- Always make sure that you are being respectful and the other person can keep their dignity.
- Allow the receiver to respond to your feedback, and stay open to their perspective. You might ask if the receiver has a similar perception to yours and if they can see themselves in the feedback.
- Consider a supportive context for your feedback – especially if it is a more critical one – like a quiet room, enough time also for the other person to react etc. And try not to give feedback if it is not asked for or appreciated.
- As suggestions, sentences which address issues might start as follows: ‘I perceive that…’, ‘I sensed the following change…’, ‘I’m curious, how come that…’, ‘Where I feel a bit nervous is…’
Similar to giving feedback, receiving feedback takes practice and requires certain attitude while listening to what the other has to say. The one who listens can support their own learning from the feedback by applying the following guidelines.
- Keep an open mind while you receive feedback. It can contain valuable insights about yourself. If there is something in the feedback that you think is not valid, you can instantly decide not to let it bother you and focus on the next point.
- Take the feedback as a gift, helping you understand yourself better through external perspectives. Luckily, you can decide yourself what aspects of the feedback you think are valuable, and want to reflect on, and what aspects are not helpful for you. There is no need to justify which aspects you accept or reject.
- Thank your partner for their feedback, even if it’s not so easy for you to take.
Application and exercises
There can be differing reasons why feedback exercises make sense in workshop settings, therefore different types of exercises are useful.
In groups where people work or collaborate together, one on one feedback supports effective working of the individual group members and prevents conflict. But also, if groups are newly- formed, a practice of telling one another what they each perceive about the others can be valuable. Either the facilitator lets participants decide for themselves with whom they want to go into a feedback round or pairs are chosen randomly. If the intention of the exercise is to practice feedback in general or to let people gain confidence in working with feedback, random pairs are a good choice
In this situation those people who do not normally speak to each other much also get a chance to share important perspectives about each other. If the exercise aims to help a group deal with frictions and bring them back into a flow, individual choice might be the better idea.
Set a fixed time for each person and announce the end of the time so the pairs swap their roles between giver and receiver. 5–15 minutes per person is a good time. Both persons should have a chance to be in both roles. If applicable, the facilitator can set up further rounds so that the participants have different feedback partners.
Groups to individuals
In situations where it makes sense to feed back on a particular action or the performance of a person in the workshop, feedback from the group can be the answer.
Also, on some occasions it can be helpful for a team to give feedback to its team leader. These situations are more delicate, however, since a group can appear very powerful and the receivers can easily adopt a defensive attitude. Therefore, receiving feedback should always be voluntary.
Furthermore, due to the power of a group, the feedback should be facilitated with particular care that people only speak for themselves and remain respectful.
Groups to groups
If you have different teams that collaborate together, you can even have two teams as a pair (similar to the one-on-one setting) and let them give feedback to each other.
Feedback is not only a tool for workshops but can be part of daily interactions. Therefore, in your debrief you can ponder the possibilities of bringing feedback into daily business and how that could look.
On a meta level, you can think about which ways of feedback are helpful, which expressions are very supportive and which are rather unhelpful. Take the discussion away from real examples, since feedback should stay only with the people who were involved, and instead try to find more general rules of thumb.