This is the sixth post in our series on the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.
With a new school year underway, you probably have plans for collaborative writing and presentation projects for your students. Any time a student is asked to assess a teammate’s creative output (formally or informally) is a great opportunity to practice the essential skill of giving constructive feedback.
Here are eight tips for providing feedback that is helpful and that maintains a positive working relationship:
- Think through your suggested changes carefully. In business, documents and presentations often illustrate complex relationships between ideas. Isolated and superficial edits that don’t grasp the big-picture message or the intricate details can do more harm than good.
- Discuss improvements rather than flaws. Instead of saying “this is confusing,” for instance, explain how the writing can be improved to make it clearer.
- Focus on controllable actions. The writer may not have control over every variable that affects the quality of the message, so focus on those aspects the writer can control.
- Be specific. Comments such as “I don’t get this” or “Make this clearer” don’t give the writer much direction.
- Keep feedback impersonal. Focus comments on the message, not on the person who created it.
- Verify understanding. If in doubt, ask for confirmation from the recipient to make sure the person understands your feedback.
- Time your feedback carefully. Respond in a timely fashion so the writer has sufficient time to implement the changes you suggest.
- Highlight any limitations your feedback may have. If you didn’t have time to give the document a thorough edit, or if you’re not an expert in some aspect of the content, let the writer know so that your comments can be implemented appropriately.
Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 42–43. Constructive feedback is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 3, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 2.