Four Ways to Improve Your Constructive Feedback

Four Ways to Improve Your Constructive Feedback

By Jennie Li

Giving (and receiving) feedback is an important aspect of developing ourselves personally and professionally. However, it can often be a source of anxiety and contention, especially when presented without tact. In this article, we’ll examine some ways to help smooth out your feedback style.

1.       Preparation is key.

Like most undertakings, presenting your opinion well requires preparation. Thinking about who the person is, the kind of feedback you’d like to give them, and the ways they might receive your feedback are all aspects of being prepared. Giving a little thought to the issues you’d like to present to the person will allow you to present your thoughts in a more organized and confident fashion, perhaps even saving you from last minute tongue spluttering.

4.       Care about the person and the issue.

Our intentions manifest in the way we speak. The premise of constructive feedback, improvement through inviting other perspectives, speaks to me as an act of fundamental good faith. When you are able to emotionally invest in the wellbeing of the people and the issues at stake, your constituents will be able to see this through both your verbal and nonverbal communication styles.

2.       A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.

Constructive feedback means giving a balanced assessment. Like writing a story, it is important to switch up the kind of information you give – hearing only about problems can put your listener into a set mode (feeling defensive, or hurt). The danger here lies in the fact that without any distinction between the kinds of information you are giving, the story is  flat, and your individual points are lost in the monotony. Sandwiching suggested improvements with positive feedback can make the information more palatable, and easier to remember as well!

3.       Don’t tell, ask instead.

Hearing feedback as a demand can cause us to raise our instinctive hackles. Remember, your feedback is an opinion and a suggestion! Ultimately, we are our own masters of our actions. Phrasing your critique as a request is one way of disarming the defenses, and it recognizes the power of the critiqued as the one to implement their own improvements.

Little Miss Horsie

I was in seventh grade, sitting behind a desk in a completely new country, and I could not understand why Mr. Leavey kept saying “Horsie.” I had moved to the United States three weeks earlier and I was not ready to be dropped into a world that I was not familiar with. It took me several minutes to realize that my teacher was mispronouncing my name, and once I realized this, I was not sure if he was making a joke. Frustration and embarrassment engulfed my body as I could not find the words to correct him. Tears fell down my face as I got up and ran away from the problem – a bad habit that stayed with me for years to come.

My inability to connect and understand the English language resulted in feelings of inadequacy. I remember sitting next to a girl and trying to explain that I was a new student in a nervous mixture of Swedish, Farsi, and any other made up words that I could create. The poor girl probably muttered “I don’t understand you,” as she got up from the chair and found another place to sit. Attempts like these felt like a constant and cruel reminder of my loneliness since I had already left my home, friends, and family behind.  I began keeping to myself and spending my days trying to “stay out of the way,” as I did not want to cause myself any embarrassment.

After years of watching me retreat into some form of hibernation, my father finally stood up and said that I could no longer blame my difficulties on being an immigrant. He asked me to decide whether I would admit defeat by moving back to Sweden or complete my mission of becoming the first in my family to attend college in the United States. I made the decision to take charge of my success and further develop my mastery of the English language. I began spending my afternoons diligently watching television with closed captioning to understand sentence structure. College allowed me another opportunity to improve and I spent this time enveloping myself in books, attending workshops, and frequenting my professors’ office hours in order to learn more about the English language. Eventually, my skills improved to the point where I was able to tutor English in Orange Coast College’s Student Success Center. Being able to explain concepts that I struggled with in the past brings me a tremendous sense of accomplishment because it reminds me of my journey and how far I have come.

As I became more proficient in the language, I realized that I also wanted to overcome my insecurities and my fear of standing out. Thus, I applied and was accepted to the student government organization at Orange Coast College as the school’s new event coordinator. Being a part of student government allowed me to be a leader on campus while also allowing me to improve my confidence through my many interactions with students throughout the campus.

My battle with the English language has been embarrassing, tough, and at times, absolutely ridiculous, but in the process I have developed the skills necessary to become a passionate writer, leader, and mentor. Because of my personal development, I have become a confident person who is no longer afraid of standing out when an awkward moment arrives; rather, I find myself laughing at the situation and appreciating that silly moments occur and that it is our job to embrace them, not to run away from them.

While I am sure that I will continue to feel a tad bit uncomfortable when my sister teases me and calls me “Horsie,” I know that much has changed: most importantly, my commitment to myself and my desire to always look for ways to improve and excel. A little part of me will always be “Horsie,” a young girl who is afraid, uncomfortable, and still figuring out her place in the world. However, the rest of me will be Hasti, the woman who looks at Little Miss Horsie, and tells her that with dedication, hard work, and commitment, there is no reason to run away..

Stepping Into Conflict

By Claire Doran, Program Director

Most days, I speak about peace. Today, I want to speak about conflict.  Peace is not an escape from conflict, but the willingness to move into conflict.  John Paul Lederach gives a simple definition for conflict transformation: (1) a positive orientation toward conflict and (2) a willingness to engage in the conflict in an effort to produce constructive change or growth.  To be honest, it’s that second half that has always proven to be a challenge for me. It may also be a challenge for you.

Just after graduating from UC Berkeley, and casting out wide nets twisted together with the paper fibers of cover letters and resumes, I landed my first job working as a residential counselor. I would work with youth ages 14-18 who through whatever number of life circumstances needed additional supervision and attention. We had magnetic badges which opened doors that clicked locked automatically behind us. We used plastic forks and spoons and had non-toxic soap in the bathrooms. We counted pens and pencils, and wore non-restrictive clothing that would see sweat, blood, and spit during the regular course of a week. And one of the first lessons that I learned there was about “proximity.” 

Providing “proximity” was a nice, clinical term for approaching one of our clients. We would provide “proximity” for a number of reasons, but it basically meant that when they were about to act out, throw down, or somehow disrupt the program, we got close. Three staff members would stand next to the youth – the number that it would take to safely restrain them if they chose to go off on us. And we would wait. And this meant re-training every cell in my body that screamed with adrenaline urging me to back off, and stand nearer to the heat of conflict. During this time, I saw anger, despair, boredom, anxiety, hopelessness, and delight from a distance of three feet or less. And I stood nearby, awaiting a direction from the staff, feeling these emotions dance along my skin.

For a full year, I spent time with these young people and grew to know their families, their hopes, insecurities, and set-backs. And several times a week, I would stand with them at the simmering brink of explosion or collapse. And several times a week, I would follow them into it and hold them through the struggle.  This March I’ve had more time and opportunity to consider this responsibility and willingness to step into conflict as we hosted an anti-bullying poster contest at the middle school and high school level.

Our students face tremendous obstacles.  While juggling full course loads taught by overstretched teachers, they also have extracurricular activities and hobbies, while still trying to develop healthy self-image, friendships and relationships with their peers.  And then, there is social pressure and bullying.  While our students are struggling to pit themselves against our standardized tests, we also ask them to look out for each other and make their schools bully-free.  We ask them to take a risk and step into conflicts to protect each other, when there are no supervising adults around to monitor them.  Even with years of practice I still break a sweat when I think about brushing up against the heat of conflict.  I wonder if as adults, we minimize their concerns about stepping into bullying.  It’s really hard – and our students who do take that leap should be truly recognized for their courage and their hard work.

Conflict – it’s the other face of peace.  And so as a peacemaker, each day, I take another step closer to conflict so that I might know it better.  What’s your next step into conflict?.