7 Tips for Constructive Feedback

My What The Friday! Feedback; Not Emoticons post from two weeks ago spawned a lot of discussion among my business peers about the way people communicate.

It also generated a lot of discussion in my personal life among my group of friends, which surprised me.

It would seem that a lot of people don’t know how to communicate their needs/wants/desires. Especially in this digital age, where deeply personal conversations are now being held over email, text, or Facebook chat.

I guess hiding behind the keyboard makes us all feel less vulnerable. It allows us to take the time to think out logically how we’re feeling and what we want to say to someone.

The problem I have with this method of communication is that if the person you’re writing to infers the wrong meaning from what you’re trying to convey, it can make things difficult. Especially when you, (or worse) the other person engages in radio silence.

Personally, I feel like radio silence (a complete lack of online  and/or interpersonal communication) is one of the most offensive things you can do to someone who is putting in the effort to communicate with you.

For instance, a friend of mine, we’ll call her Cat, was becoming frustrated with a friend of hers, and decided to write her a quick message on Facebook chat. She didn’t say anything mean, she was very constructive, and just wanted to bring up a few points about their relationship that she was unhappy with.

That was over a two weeks ago and my friend Cat still hasn’t heard from her friend. No response to texts, and according to Facebook chat the message wasn’t even read.

I find this behaviour obnoxious because Cat, in good faith, tried to express her feelings/concerns about the friendship, and her friend didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge Cat, let alone address the situation. There is nothing more destructive to the human psyche than being ignored, and that includes in our online communication.

This might be the time where someone might say, “she shouldn’t have addressed this online/over Facebook chat!” To which I say, this is the kind of world we live in now. Facebook has integrated its way into our lives and people spend almost as much time emailing as they do talking on the phone.

Also, if her friend didn’t appreciate the conversation being conducted over Facebook chat, a simple, “Can we please discuss this in person?” would have sufficed.

I understand why it’s so easy to ignore someone who may have upset you, especially if your emotional reserves are feeling low. However, it’s just plain common courtesy to give even a one-sentence response to let them know you just can’t deal with them right now. This is less insulting than giving no response at all.

This is particularly true if it’s coming from a person that you believe will be in your life long-term.  A business colleague, a friend, a lover.

In the days before the internet, people used to pick up the phone to chat with people and maintain friendships. Now, instead of picking up the phone you can post on their Facebook wall, or send them a quick email, or even a text. It’s all about instant feedback.

Friendships (relationships in general) need to be nurtured, and when one person cuts off all communication without a by-your-leave, it leaves the other person with unresolved frustration that has no where to go.

I want to share some of the strategies that I have found useful in my personal communication, but which I can think can apply to almost all online communication.

  • Never write from a place of fear or anger.

    If you’re angry or upset, you will more than likely unleash that on the person you’re writing/responding to. If you are angry in response to something that was sent to you, let the person know,

    “Hey, I’m really upset right now and I need some time to process this, I’ll get back to you soon/in a couple of days when I’ve had some time to clear my head.

    This way, the person knows what’s going on, and can await your response.

  • Be constructive in your approach.

    Communication is a 2-way street. Chances are that you were responsible for a portion of what lead to the current situation. Acknowledge what your part in the situation was, and list the things you can do to make the situation better. That way you’re not pointing the finger and placing all the blame on one person.

  • Language choice is important.

    “It really pisses me off that you’re always so fucking late.”

    “I understand that you and I work on different timetables. Where I am more comfortable being early to events, it doesn’t phase you to arrive fashionably late. This has been a cause of stress for me when we get together.”

    The first sentence was written from a place of anger. Even though it may be true, when presented like that it will only provoke the other person, either with excuses or into complete defence mode.

    The second sentence acknowledges that both people have different schedules, but also acknowledges that it is a sources of stress for the one party.

    As the friend receiving this, you are presented with how your actions affect your friend (stress) and allows you to respond with a constructive way in which you can cause less stress for your friend (get ready earlier? give yourself more time to get ready? set a timer?)

    The constructive approach allows a mutually beneficial solution for both people, as opposed to the aggressive approach which will only antagonize and shut down communication completely.

  • Always respond!

    I can’t reiterate this enough; ALWAYS RESPOND.  Any answer is better than no answer at all. Even if it’s, “go fuck yourself.” Give the person feedback.I will always advocate constructive feedback, but if you’re pissed, let them know.We seem to have gotten to this place in society where we fear people knowing that we’re mad at them. You know what, though? People get mad. We’re only human after all, and that’s alright!

  • Be Clear.

    Why are you writing your specific email/text? Remember that reason as you write it so you don’t use superfluous sentences or terminology.Make your point clear and concise so that the other person isn’t bogged down in wishy-washy uncertainty.

  • Reread!

    Always reread what you’ve written, from the very beginning, before you sent it out into the world. this allows you to catch any mistakes, and allows you to clarify, clarify, clarify!

  • K.I.S.S.

    Keep it simple, stupid. Because it really is; write from a place of love. How would you want to feel if you were the one receiving your letter? Be honest and constructive with your feelings. Always respond.I hope these strategies will come in handy for you whether it’s for your own personal communication, or especially for your business. With the advent of this marvellous digital age it’s important to keep up with the times, and that means finding better ways to communicate with the people in our lives on a digital platform.Good luck, and keep those lines of communication open!





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  • Kaitlin

    Fabulous advice! I think everyone I know should read this. Thank you for being such a great communicator yourself!

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