Constructive Feedback On Critical Management


(By James Bahm) Feedback is great when given constructively. Criticism, by definition, is not constructive. How can something build up when its sole intention is to analyze and pick apart?

My work has been picked apart – a lot. Each time, my initial thought was negative; though the more I listened to the nuggets that focused on growth and heeded the advice that went with it, the better my work became – and the better person I became, too.

Listen without emotion, because emotions can’t tell reality from fantasy. Emotions react to a thought as though it’s real, even though it’s not. Let me share two examples:

  1. When you meet someone who sparks your interests, or inspires you in a new way, and then think about that moment when you get home, how do your emotions and body react with only your thoughts? Especially when you start picturing something better that’s coming your way!
  2. The converse also is true. If a difficult client or manager says something negative at the end of the day, and then you run several scenarios over in your mind before bed – none of which are good – how do your emotions and body react to those thoughts? I know I’ve felt my blood boil at these times.

Constructive feedback when given properly teaches what to improve, what to leave behind, and what to continue doing well. That’s it. Oftentimes, some leaders focus more on being critical – and in some cases hypercritical – with their feedback. This has no place in business because the “feedback” becomes a thinly veiled cover for making personal attacks.

When it comes to feedback, the essential element is intent.

Give feedback for one purpose: to build up, not to tear down. I can count on one hand those I’ve seen who’ve given feedback for building up.

When it comes to feedback, my experience shows most managers prefer tearing down above building up, though that trend may be starting to turn in some places. So how can you give feedback to someone whose performance isn’t where you want it?

Through honest, direct, and sincere delivery. I’d approach the meeting two different ways, depending on the type of team member they are. Do they have an amazing work ethic, and put forth a great effort, are they kind, honest, ethical, and respectful? Or, are they rude, lazy, insincere, and disrespectful?

The answer determines the approach I take in the meeting; however, regardless of the type of employee they are, the opening statement is the same:

“My feedback on your performance is going to sting. It will likely bruise your ego and it may even upset you. How you react will determine how we move forward. Your performance is not where we need it to be.”

Now, more importantly, let me ask you some questions that may even upset you. As a “Manager”/”Supervisor” when you have a team member who is not meeting the mark, do you have the integrity to ask tough questions of yourself and your company? Questions like:

  • Where have you failed them as a leader?
  • Did you ever ask them questions, or did you only dictate what they’re to do?
  • Did you ever work alongside them?
  • Did you ever listen when they spoke?
  • Did you listen when they shared ideas on ways to improve workflows or processes?
  • Did you place them in the right position?
  • Did you assign them to the right team?
  • Did you ask them how they learn?
  • Did you ever care about them as a person, or did you only see them as someone to X, Y, and Z?
  • And mercy forbid you hired someone rude, lazy, disrespectful, and insincere… because then the question becomes: Do you not know how to recruit, hire, interview, and check references?

You hired an adult to do a job only an adult can do. You recognized their talent and value.  Therefore, the initial questions you must ask when a member of your team misses the mark must begin with the one who hired and led them: most likely that person is YOU!

One thing I mention in my book is that great leaders window success and mirror failure.  When great things happen, open the window, and share it with everyone on your team.  When failure occurs, look at yourself in the mirror and do a thorough examination of your efforts before looking outwardly at your team.

If you want to see business become more productive by turning the focus toward building others up, my advice to you is to be the change you want to see take hold in the professional world.

Now is a great time to start building.

Bottom Line: Once you hire someone, their professional development relies on you and your company to make every effort to ensure their success.

James Bahm has more than 30 years of experience in broadcasting, sales and marketing, and recruiting and hiring. He is the author of Don’t Yuck My Yum – a Professional Development and Sales & Marketing book.  Reach him via email. Read James’ Radio Ink archives here.


  1. Amazing! The author’s personal experiences highlight how feedback, when delivered with the intent to nurture and improve, can lead to significant positive changes. The emphasis on honest, direct, and sincere delivery is key, regardless of the type of employee being addressed. Moreover, the questions posed to managers and supervisors challenge them to reflect on their own leadership practices and responsibilities.


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