5 constructive feedback techniques

5 constructive feedback techniques

Is it possible to provide constructive feedback without demoralizing an employee? Yes, if you apply these 5 techniques…

Before giving feedback

You should start by questioning your motives before diving headfirst into offering feedback.

Is this an opportunity for you to vent your emotions?

Feedback should serve to improve a situation and modify a behaviour. Period. Before getting started, you should ascertain whether comments will have a positive impact on an employee’s development.

Don’t do it on the spot, in the heat of the action. Use the 24-hour rule. Give the dust a chance to settle so you can meet an employee with a cool and collected attitude.

Feedback sandwich technique

The sandwich technique has three layers, starting with positive feedback or praise, followed by negative feedback or criticism and ending with more positive feedback.

This technique did have its day in the sun among managers, but now seems to be on the way out. Why? Because it is difficult to correctly execute and control the outcome. An employee in the hot seat during this technique only seems to retain the negative aspect of the triple-layered message.

This technique has fallen off its pedestal, so to speak.

Feedback wrap technique

A more sophisticated version of the sandwich technique, the wrap technique has 5 relatively easy steps.

1. Provide some background

This step sets the stage to introduce your constructive feedback.

You should simply point out why you want to talk to the employee and get their attention.

2. List the facts

Without pointing a finger or looking for someone to blame, state your observations and share some concrete examples with the employee.

3. Express your emotions

Let the employee know how you feel - stick to the facts and avoid the blame game. Use a neutral tone and stay on-message when talking to the employee.

4. Articulate your needs

Make your needs known as the employee can be completely unaware of what you deem to be important.

5. End with a suggestion

Throw the ball in their court. Advocate for the employee to contribute a concrete solution that bridges the gap between facts and your expectations.

Finish with a tip that could be a new avenue to explore.

The ‘I’ technique

Traditionally, the ‘I’ feedback technique puts the focus on you, not the employee. It gently outlines all the important elements that will bring about a behavioural change.

Using the first-person formulation, your words become less confrontational and this leaves the door open for transparent, non-judgemental discussions.

You should follow the following 5 steps to apply this approach:

  1. Behaviour: When you do…
  2. Interpretation: I have the impression that…
  3. Reasons behind this interpretation: Because…
  4. New behaviour: Going forward, I would like…
  5. Is this possible? What do you think about it?
  6. Acknowledgement

Feedforward technique

This technique is the direct opposite of feedback and has proven to be successfully used by sports coaches.

Instead of being tied to the past, the feedforward method is resolutely geared toward the future. Its premise is based on the belief the future can be different and the past is the past!

This approach ignores past problems and objectionable behaviours and instead focuses on the desired goal and solutions to undertake.

An employee will be more apt to modify a situation because you have not been openly critical of them and you are already looking ahead to a solution.


One of your employees regularly misses deadlines and delivers work late.

Rather than focus on the behaviour, ask the employee how they could better organize their work to get back on track and hand in things on time.

Put the solution in their hands instead of highlighting a past problem.

Ideal positive-negative ratio

Many researchers have studied the praise-to-criticism ratio of a team’s positive and negative experiences as this contributes to overall productivity and motivation.

On the one hand, encouragement is an effective way to boost motivation. On the other hand, criticism can lead to corrective action. But is there a magic number to help managers determine what is too much or too little?

The answer is a definite yes. Harvard researchers found a successful team has a ratio of 5 or 6 positive comments to every negative comment.

This ratio falls to 3-1 with a less motivated team.

The moral of the story is that it’s best to sprinkle your more negative feedback with positive of more considerate comments that build on the employee’s strengths and highlight their successes.