Corrective Feedback – Moving Beyond Criticism

Corrective feedback is often misunderstood as criticism plus justification: “I was just speaking the truth,” or, “They needed someone to put them in their place.” However, giving corrective feedback is not about offering criticism. Criticism aims to find fault, to point out weakness, or to lay blame. Giving corrective feedback, on the other hand, aims to strengthen relationships, improve performance, and build interpersonal understanding.

Naturally, people do not like to hear that they are having a negative impact on others, that their work quality is subpar, or that there is some aspect of their behavior they will need to consider changing. The natural response when hearing corrective feedback is to put up a wall of protection. We want to acknowledge that giving (and receiving) corrective feedback is difficult, and requires a backdrop of positive feedback. However, we know that corrective feedback is necessary for growth in our organizations.

Here are 5 steps that will maximize the likelihood that our message will be heard, received, and internalized, while at the same time minimizing the likelihood of an emotional wall of protection being put up in defense. These steps will give you the confidence the next time you need to offer corrective feedback.

1. Objectively state what you observed.

Think about this as your view from the balcony.

-What did you see?

-What did you hear?

-Be very specific.

2. Probe to clarify your perspective.

Think of this as gaining focus.

-Ask a question to see if you are missing some pertinent information.

-Ask a question to show you are listening and not judging.

-Ask a question to demonstrate you care about them as a person.

3. State the effect of the behavior.

These are the ramifications or the long- term results of the action in question.

-Consequences for the person.

-Impact on the quality of work.

-The effect on others – this could be you, other co-workers, or customers.

4. Give them something to do and offer your support.

This is the action plan.

-Outline specific expectations for behavior.

-Ensure they know they have your support.

-Welcome any ideas or questions they may have.

5. Follow-up to see how progress is going.

This is your warranty work to see if the desired change has occurred.

Here are some questions to consider for follow-up:


-Have expectations been meet?

-Is the change to the extent you had hoped for?

-Are there next steps required?

Giving corrective feedback is about reducing the negativity in our workplace. It is about being vigilant to see where we can improve, and not letting negative attitudes, interactions, or poor quality become the norm. It is about holding each other accountable to a high standard of work quality and behavior.

This blog is a sample from an upcoming book by ACHIEVE Publishing. The book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We hope you participate in the short survey – we would love to hear your input.


Wendy Loewen

Managing Director

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