Whether you’re a teacher, leader, or mentor, learning how to give constructive feedback is a crucial part of the job. It helps your students, employees, or mentees make sense of their skills, goals, and possibilities. However, while it’s easy to praise someone for doing something right, what if they’re doing something wrong? For example, what if they aren’t taking your advice on how to improve their resume? What if they aren’t making efforts to manage their time more effectively? It can be frustrating to see your mentees struggling to learn and grow. As a mentor, you should remember to be careful about how you approach these conversations. How can you offer negative feedback in a more positive way?
Build Trust and Respect
A mentor’s goal is to see their mentees build confidence, improve their skills, and find success. Mentors and mentees must establish a strong sense of trust and respect for one another right at the start of their relationship. That way, when mentees ask questions and mentors provide answers, both sides know that the other person has their best interests at heart. Mentees will feel more comfortable asking questions, no matter how small or obvious they may seem. They will also feel more open to the answers and feedback they receive, even if they’re negative in nature. Lastly, mentors will be more confident that their constructive criticism will be accepted and taken into consideration.
Be Clear and Direct
When giving negative feedback, mentors may feel tempted to soften the blow. However, this approach can harm their mentee’s growth, as they don’t get to hear the full extent of what they’re doing and how they can do better. It can also feel condescending, as mentees may feel that their mentors think that they’re overly sensitive to criticism. It’s best for mentors to be honest, direct, and sincere. They should also narrow their focus to specific areas that need improvement and help their mentees set goals and create action plans. Lastly, mentors should remember to follow up. By checking in with their mentees on a consistent basis, they will be less focused on the constructive criticism itself, and more on how they learned from it.
Balance the Good and the Bad
Mentors who are new to helping others might find it hard to strike a balance between positive and negative feedback. They may focus too much on praising their mentee or correcting their mentee instead of taking the time to do both. To keep mentees from feeling overwhelmed with compliments or criticism, mentors should address both sides in every discussion. For example, if your mentee is improving their public speaking skills, but needs to work on their communication skills, make sure to mention both. Lastly, the most important thing for mentors to do is to give advice that is proportional to their performance. If their mentee is struggling, mentors shouldn’t mislead them by focusing more on the good than the bad.
Differentiate Between Constructive and Critical
Navigating the line between being constructive and being critical can be tricky. There are a few considerations mentors should keep in mind when giving negative feedback to avoid being overly judgemental. To start, they shouldn’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. If they immediately assume the worst of their mentee’s actions or decisions, they might end up being too harsh or giving the wrong advice. Next, they should focus their comments on the behavior, not the person. Making it too personal can lead to their mentees feeling hurt or offended. Lastly, they should stop, listen, and encourage reflection. Rather than immediately reacting, both parties should step back and think about what they gained from their discussion so they can move forward together.