Tough Conversation Coming Up? Ten Tips For Providing Constructive Feedback

February 11

Written by Dr. Katrina Kuzyszyn-Jones

When providing feedback to a loved one or someone at work, we usually provide feedback with the hope that raising awareness will lead to an improvement in the other person’s behavior.

It’s important to consider what your current relationship is like; are you the best person to provide this feedback?

Do you generally do a good job of catching this person doing something well; do you provide periodic praise? If so, you are in a better position to provide constructive feedback, particularly if there is a discrepancy in power between you and the person to whom you will provide the feedback, or, if it is an emotional topic.

If the other person is used to hearing a balance of positive and negative feedback, they are less likely to become upset when you do have to provide feedback about something you would like to see change.

If you don’t have a great relationship with this person, you may consider if someone else can provide the feedback. However, sometimes it’s inevitable that you have to provide the feedback (it’s your mother, employee, spouse...). If that’s the case, you need to make sure that you prepare for them to be defensive; they may even try to stonewall the conversation. Don’t let fear stop you. Although insight is not the cure, if you don’t provide the feedback, and bring it to their awareness, it is highly unlikely the behavior will change.

Here are 10 tips for providing constructive feedback:

  1. 1
    Keep your feelings under control.
    This is particularly important if you are emotionally involved with the person, or, if there is a strained relationship with the person.
  2. 2
    Provide feedback within 48 hours of the occurrence.
    If you do it too soon, you may be too emotional to be effective. If you wait too long, they’ll wonder how it can be important if you waited so long.
  3. 3
    Consider the timing.
    Have you had time to prepare for the conversation? Are they tired?
  4. 4
    Provide them with a heads-up.
    Some people will become more anxious knowing that you want to “talk” to them. However, it’s worse for people to feel blindsided or like they didn’t have time to prepare for a serious conversation.

    A) If this is a work relationship, you can send an email or leave a voicemail that you’d like to meet with them at a certain time/day, to discuss XYZ.

    B) If it’s a personal relationship, it’s better to talk in person or on the phone and let them know that you want to set aside time to talk about something you been thinking a lot about. This may help them feel less defensive at the time of the conversation. However, you need to be prepared to have the conversation then and there as they may press you in a way that a colleague or supervisee will not.
  5. 5
    Avoid a harsh start up.
    Don’t make assumptions. Ask them about their side of the story, what happened? How do they think they are doing, how are things going?
  6. 6
    Keep your feedback brief.
    No one likes a lecture, and we all stop listening when people rant, use too many words, or talk for too long.
  7. 7
    Don’t talk about too many problems at one time.
    The person will lose sight of what’s the most important change to make, and so will you.
  8. 8
    You want to make specific observations about behavior. 
    Do not talk about personality flaws. Do not compare them to others.
  9. 9
    Be friendly but firm.
    While you want to be kind and authentic in your delivery, don’t hedge your point. Make a real request for change, not just an observation.
  10. 10
    Provide specific suggestions for how to change.
    For example, I’ve noticed that you have been late to work for the past week. Is there anything going on? Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything you need to do to make sure you arrive by 8:30am? Maybe setting an alarm can help make sure you leave on time.


Do you have a hard conversation coming up and want to pick someone’s brain, or practice, in a safe environment first?
People often only consider going to see a counselor or psychologist when they think things are ‘really bad’. However, we can serve as a one or two-time relationship or communication coach. A session can be a traditional hour, or, shorter or longer.

We also offer Telehealth, so you can meet with one of us from the comfort of your home or office (or home office). If you select this option, a same day appointment may even be available.

Call us at 919-493-1975 or reach out to drkatrina@kkjpsych.com.

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constructive conversation, constructive feedback, tough conversation


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