Change management, Guidance, Soft skills & personality
Giving feedback: the 10 rules for constructive feedback

Table of contents

Giving feedback: 10 rules for constructive feedback

Imagine something is annoying you. You bring this up and… it actually changes! Easy, without stress & arguments. Through feedback. We’ll show you how it’s done:

  • How you give feedback so that it is received by the other person.
  • What is the difference between feedback and criticism?
  • How do you stay constructive?
  • And how can you handle critical feedback with confidence?




Time Feedback



Why give constructive feedback?

Being able to give constructive feedback is incredibly useful in all areas of life! Unfortunately, most of us haven’t learned how to do this – and so conversations that were actually aimed at improving the current state of affairs suddenly become emotional… Let’s take a look at a few such situations:


Feedback in a professional context

Do you know this situation? Colleague Kerstin works with great enthusiasm. But unfortunately in the completely wrong direction. This is not only wasted working time, but is gradually jeopardizing the current project. It is up to you as a manager to make Kerstin aware of this. Of course, you want to maintain her drive and that of the company, but you want to fundamentally change the direction. Unfortunately, you fear that Kerstin might react angrily or even nastily if you criticize her intensive efforts; that she might feel thwarted and attacked. So how do you want to approach her so that she ideally changes course and continues to roar with positive energy – in the desired direction?


Feedback in a private environment

These kinds of challenges also await you in your private life: your partner has extremely precise ideas about how to make your weekend together a highlight. She/he is already making enthusiastic preparations for the hiking weekend in the mountains that she/he has spontaneously planned. She/he expects you to show a good deal of anticipation. However, this doesn’t really want to happen for you. The opposite is the case: not only do you urgently need a quiet weekend at home due to stress, you also feel completely overwhelmed by your partner’s activism and that your needs are not being met. How can you convey all this news to your partner – which is, of course, rather annoying for him or her – without causing a fiasco?



Non-violent communication


“It is the purest form of madness,
to leave everything as it is and hope,
that something changes.”

Albert Einstein





What constructive feedback can achieve

Basically, you have two options in the situations described above:


  1. You don’t mention what you would like to change and thus roll out the red carpet for the possibility that everything will remain as it is.
  2. You open a conversation about it.
    The way you do this has a direct influence on what will come out of your conversation: Lack of understanding & defense or understanding & cooperation.


As you can see, constructive feedback is THE most important technique in communication!
The aim here is to turn a minefield of potential conflict into a runway for positive, open cooperation. And that’s no easy task… – but it’s worth it:
If you manage to give constructive feedback, you will be able to improve almost all relationships: you will be able to work together more productively, collegial relationships will flourish, your employees will be much happier working in your company – and yes, even love relationships will flourish.


It sounds almost too good to be true. But there is also bad news:
According to a study, feedback is unfortunately at the bottom of managers’ list of priorities – but the thing that employees miss the most.


Giving constructive feedback: The 10 golden rules



Studies on feedback

  1. The Gallup Engagement Index 2016 found that only half of employees have spoken to their manager about their work at least once in the last year. A measly 14% of employees report continuous discussions about their performance. Only 38% agree with the statement “the feedback I receive on my work helps me to do my job better”. This means that 62% of employees do not receive any helpful support from their superiors in the form of feedback. That’s not clever, because after all, everyone involved has an interest in the best possible performance.
  2. Managers and employees are divided on the quality of feedback given: 70.5% of managers rate their own feedback skills as good to very good. However, only 45% of employees agree with them. This was the result of a study by the Institute for Conflict Management and Leadership Communication (IKuF) in Cologne.
  3. Further good news on the subject of feedback and motivation came from studies by economics professor Fred Luthans from the University of Nebraska: when employees were paid for their performance, productivity increased by 23%. However, if recognition and feedback were added to the monetary reward, the increase in productivity was a whopping 45% – almost double!


Collegial feedback


What is feedback?


Feedback – the definition

Feedback is constructive feedback on demonstrated behavior and aims to improve this behavior. The foundations are non-violent communication, solution orientation and openness to different perspectives.

What is good feedback?

Feedback is good when the feedback given leads to the situation discussed changing for the better. Empathy and a focus on solutions and good cooperation help here.



Comparing feedback and criticism – of heroes and failures

Comparison of feedback and criticism


First of all: feedback and criticism are not the same thing!

The criticism we all fear so much is usually directed at the inadequate, the negative. And we don’t like to be associated with that. Who likes to look bad and feel like a failure? To ward off this feeling, we are quick to come up with justifications and vehemently resist and defend ourselves.


Feedback, on the other hand, aims to improve what already exists. And we are much more inclined to join in. Because then we can show what we’ve got and maybe even feel a bit heroic!



Feedback means reconciling different perspectives

Feedback is first and foremost an exchange of information; a feedback loop that tells you what’s going on with you, where you are and where the other person is in relation to that, where you think things should be going and why.
This type of localization could be understood as a comparison of different maps:
Imagine that each of us has our own map of the world. None of them is objective; none of them describes reality. Everyone’s map describes how they see the world. Our very subjective way of interpreting the world, situations, people and so on is based on the experiences we have had, our beliefs, our needs and our assumptions about how we assess further developments. And of course our form on the day and current situation also play a role in our assessment of people, things and events.




Giving constructive feedback: The basics



The magic word: appreciation

It is fundamentally important that we accept that each of us perceives and evaluates the same event in completely different ways. We should by no means insist that our own view of things is the last word in wisdom. Only this kind of openness towards others paves the way for us to treat each other with respect and empathy. Because only when our conversation partner perceives that they are fundamentally valued will they be prepared to accept input from outside and negotiate behaviors.



Our video: How do you give feedback in an agile environment?



How we process information

1. the setting: our basic attitude

As described above, we all bring something like basic emotional attitudes with us; in other words, our beliefs, assumptions and our current situation. These inner attitudes act like a filter: if we think we are a lucky child and have a positive attitude towards the world, our filter will probably be more rosy and we are more likely to accept a conversation about our work as an opportunity and a welcome invitation to improve. However, if our self-confidence is not particularly high at the moment, we may quickly suspect an attack. And if we are generally rather pessimistic in our approach to life, then a conversation like this may seem like another hardship that we have to endure with frustration.


2. perception, our focus

We perceive different things according to our basic emotional attitude. For example, if we are giving a presentation to several strangers and feel confident and well prepared, then we mainly notice the benevolent or smiling faces of our audience. However, if we expect to fail when we speak in front of others and fear the scathing judgment of our audience, we are likely to focus on the only person in the audience who blows a gasket, even if the rest are listening intently.


3. the thoughts – our interpretation of the situation

Immediately, thoughts come to mind that evaluate the situation – and usually confirm our point of view:
If we have assumed that we will deliver a great performance and have focused on the circumstances that confirm this assumption – in our example, the sympathetic listeners – then we think: “It’s working!” If we notice the disgruntled listener at all, we might think, “The poor thing might have his back”.
However, if we have concentrated on our fears and the bad mood, we assess the situation completely differently: “Shit – this is going wrong. They think I’m sh….”



Positive and negative communication



4. the feeling

We react on an emotional level to what we perceive and our interpretation of it, feeling accordingly pleased, stressed, attacked and so on. This often reinforces our basic feeling.


5. physical reaction

Our body always reacts to our emotions: In stressful situations, a single physical reaction usually prevails: Tension. If we feel motivated, we also feel physically energized.


6. impulse to act

Since time immemorial, it has been vital for us humans to assess situations quickly, check whether they are dangerous and react quickly accordingly. If we feel threatened, we want to flee or fight. If we feel attacked in a conversation, we evade, start to justify ourselves or react aggressively.





What is important when giving feedback?

As you can see, it is extremely important that you signal to the other person that you want to improve the situation and not attack. If you keep this – and a few other points – in mind, feedback is a good starting point for dialog – and ultimately for improvements. Without feedback, people usually learn nothing from the existing situation and everything remains the status quo. Except conflicts: regrettably, these have a tendency to worsen significantly over time without resolution…



When to give feedback?

What are situations that require feedback?


1. a specific occasion

You have a problem with something; you want something to change and therefore it is necessary to give feedback.
What could be such a specific occasion?

  1. On a factual level, something is not going as agreed. For example, someone does not comply with regulations.
  2. On an emotional level, something is not going the way you think it should, for example you feel unfairly treated and are offended.

The factual and emotional levels are vastly different: with pure reference to the factual, it is relatively easy to express your opinion clearly and to communicate how things should actually work. However, when emotions are involved, we tend to blithely interpret situations, sometimes we even secretly accuse people of having dishonest intentions and get angry that our expectations have not been met.


2. regular feedback

In many companies, teams or managers already give feedback on a regular basis – this can be the annual discussion about performance over the past year, standard employee appraisals or management feedback. When working with agile methods such as Scrum or Design Thinking, regular feedback meetings are an integral part of the process. But even without agile project management, the retrospective has established itself as a format for a joint feedback session in the team.







Objective or subjective feedback?

One basis for the design of the feedback is whether or not we have an objective benchmark, i.e. whether we want to negotiate something that we personally perceive as suboptimal.


The objective standard

If there is an objective benchmark against which the target and actual state of a situation can be measured, it is much easier to give feedback.
An objective benchmark is, for example, regulations, laws or company specifications. A few examples: “We must follow this process.” or “We have agreed as a team that everyone should put their things in the dishwasher.” or “A customer must be served in the following way.”

The subjective feeling

The opposite of an objective standard is the personal idea of how something should be. And of course there are as many personal ideas as there are personalities.
Punctuality is a prime example of differing opinions:
Does punctuality still include everything within the academic quarter? Is it okay to be late for a meeting because you had another phone call? Or is it a form of respect to really be on time to the minute?
These are all unspoken values. The values and views on this are very different. We tend to perceive our own standards as “right” but those of others as “wrong” and often give angry feedback accordingly. However, a conversation about subjective feelings should really just be an invitation to exchange ideas and find a compromise.




Emotional reaction to criticism

“What Paul says about Peter,
says more about Paul than about Peter.”


Baruch de Spinoza (1632 – 1677),
actually Benedictus d’Espinoza, Dutch philosopher


Perception of different perspectives

When Paul talks about Peter, we primarily learn a lot about how Paul sees the world, what he considers important and what he doesn’t think is right. His perspective is communicated in what he says.
Back to our example of punctuality: on the one hand we have the over-punctual person, on the other hand we have the more flexible person who likes to make decisions depending on the situation. If a conflict arises because one person was, as always, overly punctual and expects the other to be too, but the other is more relaxed and feels like he or she is being bullied by such trivialities, rifts open up: from the flexible person’s point of view, the reliable person is a bean counter who should just take it easy. From the perspective of the reliable person, the flexible person is once again a chaotic, disrespectful hallodri. Both assess situations completely differently.

A matter of taste

If Peter and Paul were to insist that their own interpretation is the right one and that things are done in exactly the same way and not differently, then a stable basis for outrage and dispute would be laid. Each of the brawlers would have the feeling of being on the good side and fighting for the right cause. And both would eagerly harp on about the supposed shortcomings of the other – bean counters, hallodriors.
As you can see, insight is the first path to improvement: it is important to accept that this is a matter of “taste”, which, as we all know, cannot be argued about. You have to negotiate here!



Feedback - how to act correctly in a dispute?



Feedback tips: Giving subjective or objective feedback

Subjective feedback – the negotiation

With different tastes, attitudes and values, it’s about understanding each other and finding a way together that works for both.
Show your counterpart that their point of view is okay – as well as yours. If the other person understands how you feel, what is important to you – and vice versa – then you can talk about what modus operandi would be okay for both of you. Positive formulations and questions can be used:
“It would be nice if you…” or “Can we somehow manage this together?”

Objective feedback – the expectation

Since there is a clearly defined benchmark here, an expectation can be formulated.
If it has already been established that the academic quarter is accepted in the company, then you can expect not to be criticized for it. However, if there is a rule that absolute punctuality is mandatory, then you can expect this to be adhered to.



How to give constructive feedback



Giving constructive feedback: The 10 golden rules

The basis: non-violent communication (NVC)

The American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg is regarded as the developer of non-violent communication. He wanted people to be able to exchange ideas openly and empathetically.
Based on non-violent communication, rules have been developed and proven that help to remain constructive even in tense communication situations, regardless of whether the topic is emotional or factual.


Positive feedback

The goal of non-violent communication

Instead of someone venting their frustration, which leads to arguments that do not solve problems but rather cause damage, non-violent communication is about empathically creating a common basis with one another, i.e. achieving real improvement through a conversation.




The way

Adhering to these feedback rules ensures that the person addressed can listen to the content without feeling attacked by it. So the mood can remain calm.
This in turn is the basis for a constructive discussion about different needs and points of view.
Since these rules are used to communicate without violence, i.e. without attacks or dogmatism, the person being addressed does not need to defend themselves by resisting, justifying or being dogmatic. Instead, they can remain open and think about how they can approach the other person, what they can do to meet their counterpart’s wishes and improve the relationship or cooperation.


A case for feedback

You sent an email to your colleague Ms. Schmidt and urgently needed an answer. But something only happened when you pushed after two days. This is the fourth time that Ms. Schmidt has taken longer. You are annoyed. It gets you into trouble every time. You have deadlines that you struggle to meet – and so Ms. Schmidt’s dawdling creates a fiasco in your workflow every time. You don’t find that collegial or even respectful. It’s not as if the answers you need are highly complex. She would have researched that in 15 minutes. So what’s the point? Doesn’t she like you? Is she doing this on purpose? Or does she simply not care?

You’ve put up with it three times, but now, the fourth time, Mrs. Schmidt’s behavior is breaking the camel’s back. You won’t put up with that – and Ms. Schmidt should know that too.

During the lunch break, you think about how you can approach Ms. Schmidt so that your collaboration works better. You realize that you can’t go thundering around her desk like a goddess of vengeance. But what’s the best way to go about it?

The future



Rule 1: Choose a good time!

Choose a time for your feedback when everyone involved has time and peace! The more sensitive the feedback, the more important this rule is.
You should not give feedback in conflict situations, as you will be emotionally charged (-> See rule 2). That always goes wrong.

But also give feedback as soon as possible after the event! Don’t wait too long, because the fresher the situation is, the better your counterpart will be able to understand and integrate the feedback.

Announce your feedback so that the person you are talking to does not feel ambushed.


Constructive feedback – an example:

You have asked Ms. Schmidt for an interview. You meet in a place where you won’t be disturbed. You have brought time with you. The phone is off, you want to concentrate fully on the conversation. You are calm and the person you are talking to also has a moment of peace. It just fits. As a nice gesture, you brought Mrs. Schmidt a cup of coffee. You’re ready to go.

Giving constructive feedback at the right time


Destructive feedback – better not:

You throw your feedback at Ms. Schmidt’s feet from time to time, even though you can see that she’s under a lot of stress: Ms. Schmidt has to meet a deadline, is struggling with a demanding customer – and the boss just wanted something. And now you with your feedback. Poor Mrs. Schmidt. And just as she’s about to say something back, you have to keep going. Because you don’t really have time right now either, but at least you were able to quickly get rid of what’s bothering you. And now there are more important things than Mrs. Schmidt’s reaction: you have to take a phone call now.
I wonder if the feedback was well received by Ms. Schmidt? And if so, how?




Rule 2: Never give feedback in emotionally charged situations!

If you or the other person are emotionally charged, then you should definitely wait until everyone has calmed down. Only then can you give objective and constructive feedback. In heated situations that are about to become destructive, you should withdraw. So if you’re really pissed off, sleep on it and see if you’re now able to talk calmly and objectively about the issue.


Constructive feedback – an example:

Despite your best intentions, you got into a fight with Mrs. Schmidt. The tone becomes sharper, you both get louder, you discover red spots on Mrs. Schmidt’s face. You take a deep breath and try to maintain a calm, friendly tone. You reassure her that her point of view is important to you and that you want to hear it. – And that you want to use a quieter moment when you are both less heated.



Feedback: subjective perception or objective benchmark?



Destructive feedback – better not:

You wanted to give feedback, but Ms. Schmidt didn’t react the way you wanted her to. You had actually hoped that it would be textbook and that the person you were talking to would humbly accept your speech and vow to do better. But nothing there – Mrs. Schmidt thinks that you have also contributed to the situation that has arisen and that she is not solely responsible. Suddenly you’re in the line of fire. You are outraged. You let Ms. Schmidt feel that too. And you take the opportunity to think of even more unpleasant idiosyncrasies of your colleague Schmidt, which you now throw in her face. Let her finally realize that she’s wrong across the board, that she’s a weirdo and constantly disrespectful towards you…
Will anything change? And if so, in which direction?



Error culture


Rule 3: Always give feedback without an audience!

If feedback is needed, then in private. You should never exchange feedback in the presence of colleagues, as the people concerned are then unable to accept the feedback properly and are afraid of being exposed. Very important: Make sure that the person you are talking to can save face!


Constructive feedback – an example:

You and Ms. Schmidt discuss your content in a respectful one-to-one conversation in a place without “public traffic”. You blocked the meeting room or invited the other person for coffee outside.

Destructive feedback – better not:

A cheerful group of colleagues is having a coffee in the hallway and gossiping about their new boss. Ms. Schmidt is part of the blasphemy round. Everyone agrees: the new one is a bit lame. Nothing goes forward with him. That’s your keyword: “lame-ass”. If this isn’t the time to give Ms. Schmidt a run for her money. You pick up on this and make a joke about Ms. Schmidt’s eternal response times. One of them laughs, the rest say “I’ve got some work to do” and Mrs. Schmidt looks startled.
I wonder if Ms. Schmidt will answer your emails faster as a result?



Accept feedback



Rule 4: Start with what you value in others!

If you have managed to create the right conditions for a feedback meeting, then you should start positively! This allows the other person to open up and know that their efforts are being recognized. Negative things are then much easier to accept, as otherwise you don’t feel fully seen or treated unfairly. So you should first mention positive qualities or ways of working and wrap up the negative points well.


Constructive feedback – an example:

How could you open the conversation with Ms. Schmidt? – “I would like to give you some feedback on our collaboration. First of all, I would like to say that I really enjoy working with you! Things are going extremely well in many areas. In particular, I think it’s great how committed you are. Take the project last week, for example: you stayed on the ball meticulously – great! And then there’s one thing that’s really difficult for me – I’d like to talk to you about that…”

Here, Ms. Schmidt sees that it is a matter of many and that the cooperation is not fundamentally questioned or that her work is not simply devalued. This allows them to accept the feedback much better.



Facial expressions, gestures, voice when giving feedback



Destructive feedback – better not:

You get straight to the point: “I don’t like the way you’re doing it!” Why beat about the bush?
Put yourself in Mrs. Schmidt’s shoes: You worked overtime and really put in the work; no one ever thanked you for it or even registered what you took on. It seemed to go without saying that everything worked out. – And all you get now is a cold shower? Impudence!



Objective feedback



Rule 5: Give facts, be specific!

The time has come! You have successfully initiated a feedback discussion – now it’s time to get down to business. Now you need to remain vigilant, because there are some classic pitfalls.
When you get to the negative part, the part that is probably uncomfortable for the other person, you should describe the facts in concrete terms, with as many details as possible!

  • Perception instead of interpretation: stick to the facts!
    What actually happened? Describe factually what happened. Just that. No interpretation, no evaluation.
    “I asked you by e-mail on Tuesday at 16:23 which (…). I asked again on Thursday at 11:04. I received your reply on Friday at 13:16. My deadline for which I needed the answer was Thursday at 18:00. “
  • Give concrete examples!
  • Give your conversation partner the chance to find out exactly what you mean. If you name specific situations, the other person can better understand what exactly is difficult for you.
  • Avoid generalizations!
  • Generalizations are definitely one of our favorite stumbling blocks. Does that sound familiar? “You always do…”, “You never have…”, “You do everything…”. Words that generalize, like never, always, constantly, everything, nothing are called stimulus words. And not without reason, because they drive our counterpart straight into defense and justification.
  • In other words, behavior-related and not character-related!
  • Remember: it’s about discussing a situation and optimizing future behavior, but not about questioning the character of the other person!
  • Never interpret the “mistakes” of others!


Beware of putting your foot in it!

Describe rather than interpret, describe your observations objectively and comprehensibly! And because it’s so important, let me repeat: don’t interpret anything into the other person’s unpleasant behavior! For example, if you have borrowed your own car and the tank is empty when you return it, don’t assume that the other person was simply too lazy to fill up. If you put your foot in it, the other person, who you may have labeled as lazy, inconsiderate, selfish, stingy and so on, will start to resist – after all, who likes to put up with things like that? Then you’ve probably started a discussion in which the actual feedback is completely lost. Stick to the bare facts: The tank was empty on return.



Emotionally charged situation



Constructive feedback – an example:

For example, you might want to tell a colleague that it bothers you that she often postpones appointments at short notice. You give specific examples: “In the last three weeks, you have postponed appointments three times at short notice. There’s the meeting on September 28, which you canceled the same day in the morning. Then last week on Wednesday, you didn’t even call me until five minutes after our date had started. And last night you canceled our appointment for this morning.”


Destructive feedback – better not:

“You always change appointments the day before. You’re never considerate. It’s always just about you, you’re selfish and also poorly organized.”




Corporate culture




Rule 6: Send “I” messages instead of “you” messages

Talk about yourself – and not about the other person!

This is one of the most important foundations of non-violent communication – and perhaps also the most challenging.


  • Describe the consequences that a behavior has for you: “I try to plan my time. If we have an appointment, I prepare for it and try to deal with other issues beforehand. Cancellations at short notice often mean I lose time that I urgently need.” Or in the case of Ms. Schmidt: “Your response time puts me under enormous time pressure because I need your answer in order to continue working”.
  • Explain what a behavior does to you, what feelings it triggers in you. “If you’re typing on your cell phone during a conversation, I’m not sure if you’re listening to me.” “If you don’t reply until days later, I get restless and come under pressure.”
  • Communicate what you have difficulties with/an issue you are allergic to – “It drives me crazy when someone smacks”, “It annoys me when I don’t hear anything.
  • Avoid sending you messages along the lines of “You are inattentive, selfish, inconsiderate, chaotic, rude, rude, etc.” “You have really long delivery times.”
    Caution: Avoid hidden “you” messages in “I” statements. “I feel excluded/ bullied/ threatened/ neglected or similar” are not feelings, but actually statements in which I interpret the behavior of the other person. This can also lead to my counterpart not accepting my feedback and contradicting the “you” message.
  • Talk about what you need. “I need peace and quiet in an in-depth conversation”, “I need feedback on when I can expect an answer”.
  • If you want to interpret something, to convey your personal impression, then please separate this clearly from the facts!
    Make it clear that this is your point of view! Do without: “You were very friendly”. Instead, describe the facts and your interpretation: “You seemed very friendly to me because you were smiling.” In this regard, be especially careful when you are about to use adjectives/adverbs such as unfriendly, rude, invasive, inviting and so on. Phrases such as “When you did x, I had the impression that…” or “I felt behavior x in such and such a way” help. “When you didn’t reply the next day either, I had the impression that I had ended up on the waiting track. And that caused me stress.”



Conflict situation at the workplace



Your own view is not the measure of all things!

Do you remember our example above? A thinks punctuality is essential, but B remains relaxed about the academic quarter and doesn’t understand at all why A is upset.
So which of the two is right? – Nobody! There is no objective way here, there is no set standard. It is always a question of perspective, preferences, values, what we perceive as important and what not; where we remain relaxed or act meticulously.
The moment you send a you-message, you act as if your standard is the measure of all things – and the other person does not meet it. That’s not okay, because it’s just your personal view. No more and no less.
If you resort to the “you” message, your counterpart will understandably object. But contradiction and defensiveness are more than detrimental to your goal of finding a way to deal with the situation better. After all, you want to make common cause and not turn the other person against you, right?


I-message instead of “Everyone else sees it the same way!”

This is another popular pitfall: in order to reinforce our own view of things, we unfortunately tend to build up an invisible army in conflict situations: We back our opponent into a corner by telling them that “everyone else” has also noticed how badly they are behaving, that a group of people also agree with us. We might even garnish our contribution with details such as “Brigitte also thinks that you…”.


That’s not fair, because we are trying to make our opinion the objective benchmark through absent supporters. This usually leads the other person into opposition rather than to the insight you want. No wonder – how would you feel if “everyone” suddenly found fault with you?


The same applies here: Stay consistent in talking about yourself!



Giving constructive feedback in the company



Constructive feedback – an example:

(Describe the fact:) “You were between 5 and 10 minutes late for each of the last 5 sessions.”
(I-message:) “Punctuality is particularly important to me and if you’re always 5 minutes late, I’ll be annoyed that I didn’t start something else.”


(Fact:) “Ms. Schmidt, in the last 2 months I have received answers four times after more than 24 hours.
(I-message:) I would have needed these answers sooner and that put me in a difficult situation.”


Destructive feedback – better not:

(You-message:) You are disrespectful and unpunctual. You’re just poorly organized. The others have also noticed this.



Destructive criticism instead of constructive feedback



Objective guidelines:

In most cases, there is nothing objective to negotiate; it’s mostly about what you like and what you don’t like, i.e. about individual tastes. However, as described above, there are also situations in which objective standards are set, for example:

  • Legal rules
  • Contractual requirements
  • house rules
  • a requirement of the management
  • a way of working together that a team has agreed on.

If, for example, it has been decided that everyone in the company will put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher in the evening, then there is an objective benchmark. As this is not about personal preferences, the feedback is a little different: “You don’t put your dishes in the dishwasher at night. I’ve seen it sitting around or on your desk for the last three days. I expect you to do that.”

If you are a manager and can set objective standards, then you must first introduce the standard clearly before you can refer to it.
Only when everyone in the team knows that you expect absolute punctuality and when this has been bindingly agreed can you refer to this and say: “You’re 5 minutes late, that’s not okay.” But as long as this is not binding and there is the possibility of different points of view, you have to argue differently.





Rule 7: Pay attention to expression, body language and voice!

Remember: the sound makes the music. What use is the most beautiful declaration of love in a reproachful tone? Nothing. The same applies to feedback.


We all know that the non-verbal part of our communication is much more important than what we actually say. The Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research classifies the importance of communication factors as follows:

  • 55 % Gestures and facial expressions
  • 38 % Voice and tone of voice
  • 7 % content


This means that you should pay attention to how you convey something during the feedback. You always convey emotional information. An aggressive undertone, annoyance and the like work against you!


To gain a positive attitude: Realize what you value in others – and what positive situation you are heading towards.

Example: Ms. Schmidt always processes things very thoroughly. She is also usually very helpful. You want to work well with her and for her to work quickly with you in the future.


You have managed to describe your situation to Ms. Schmidt in a very friendly way.
Ms. Schmidt: “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know it was so urgent. I’ve only had a three-quarter-time job for a few months now, I’m working less and I’m working away from home more often. I’m often very short of time. Gosh, I’m sorry, I didn’t think it was that urgent.”
The conversation is going well! Ms. Schmidt signals that she understands your interests and points out what your situation is. Now you can negotiate together what would suit you both.



Feedback Culture Company


Rule 8: Don’t overdo it: dose your feedback!

Yes – giving constructive feedback is a good way to strengthen cooperation or find agreement in relationships. But: Hold the measure! While you’re at it, don’t try to discuss everything else you can think of. This would strain or even overwhelm the other person.


Be compassionate! If your feedback went well, the other person has received your message and you are both motivated to work together better, then the other person will also be willing to have further constructive conversations with you. – After all, it’s a win-win situation for both of you!






Rule 9: Say what behavior you want!

The feedback meeting went well. The task now is to find a conclusion. What could be more appropriate than a look into the future?
Tell the other person as precisely as possible what behavior you would like to see from them in the future. This is the only way he has the chance to implement your feedback.
Constructive feedback is therefore not just about finding fault with what you don’t like, but about pointing out ways in which we can work together better.

But beware! We are not on “Make a wish”. Just because you express a wish doesn’t mean that the other person has to fulfill it. Here too, of course, it depends on whether you state your wish on the basis of an objective guideline. This makes it easier Even if you are the boss, you probably have the authority to give instructions. If neither is the case, an expressed wish is simply an invitation to a conversation in which you can reconcile your different needs and negotiate what a joint solution might look like.


Constructive feedback – an example:

Example: “It would be great if you let me know if you’re going to be 10 minutes late, then I can adjust and maybe do something quickly instead of sitting around waiting.”

A: “Dear Ms. Schmidt, it would be great if you could reply to my emails within 24 hours.”
S: “Yes, of course, if my work allows it. Unfortunately, I can’t always guarantee that. But I have a suggestion – please let me know if it’s really urgent so that I can prioritize the response. Perhaps in the subject line or with a short phone call.”
A: “That’s a good idea. I’ll do that – if it’s likely to take you longer, could you let me know?”
S: “Absolutely.”
– This way you will always get your urgently needed answers quickly. Ms. Schmidt can follow her own workflow in less urgent cases. And you know that she cares.



Destructive feedback – better not:

“Get your organization together at last!”

“Mrs. Schmidt, a little hop-hop in the future!”



Criticism Versus Feedback



Rule 10: Give feedback before it becomes necessary!

Here comes the master discipline of giving feedback: If you want to avoid a certain behavior or foreseeable mistakes, it is helpful not to wait until they actually occur. On the contrary: give positive feedback on the desired behavior if it has already been shown. Because this will reinforce the desired behavior.
An example: “Mr. Löw, I saw how you responded to our guest’s wishes. You seemed very approachable to me; even when our guest became emotional, you remained very calm. That’s exactly what we need here at reception!” Mr. Löw now knows which behavior is desired and will show it more often.
In this way, you can also use feedback as a management tool.
A little tip: it works in private too.

“Thank you very much, Ms. Schmidt, for responding to my email so quickly! That helped me enormously with my project. I appreciate the fact that I can rely on you.”




The most important ingredient for successful feedback: empathy!

One of the most important tips:
Take an emphatic approach! Always keep an eye on how the other person feels and what they need! This is the only way you can really reach the other person.




Bad feedback – how it is guaranteed to go wrong:

The good news is that you can achieve a lot with constructive feedback; the bad news is that you can also achieve a lot with bad feedback.
– You’re slamming doors in your face and exacerbating conflicts.

Here are the don’ts once again
* Don’t suddenly blurt out your feedback!
* Do not give feedback under time pressure!
* Do not roll over the feelings of the other person!
* Do not attack the other person personally!
* Avoid hurtful wording at all costs!
* Don’t judge the other person!
* Do not generalize!
* Do not embarrass your counterpart in front of others!
* It’s not about mistakes and guilt, but about solutions!
* Don’t just pursue your own interests!




The golden feedback formula:

After all this information, here is a formula that you can use as a guide for your next feedback.
Marshall Rosenberg summarizes the steps of non-violent communication in the following sentence:


“When I see a, I feel b, because I need c. That’s why I would like d now.”


a … Observation
b … Feeling
c … Need
d … Please


Please remember to find a positive start here too!


Example of the feedback formula

Dear Mrs. Schmidt,

  1. (Positive start) I really appreciate that you work so thoroughly:
  2. (give example) When you prepared the documents for Project X for me, everything was really there and it made my work immensely easier. Thank you!
  3. (I-message & goal formulation) There is one thing I have difficulties with and wanted to see if we could optimize our cooperation:
  4. (a … observation) In the last 2 months I have had three inquiries to you and have received a reply from you 2 days later in each case.
  5. (b … feeling) This made me very anxious; I was worried that my request would go unanswered and that your reply would arrive too late for me to be able to continue working on it in time.
  6. (c … need) I always had a deadline and needed your response very quickly. Then it helps if I know when I can expect your input.
  7. (d … please) That’s why I wanted to ask you to answer my requests within one day or let me know if you need longer. That would make my job a lot easier.

Feedback formula



Being able to accept feedback: How to deal with feedback?

Let’s just turn the tables: You get feedback. How do you deal with it?

Destructive feedback – what to do?

Mrs. Schmidt stands in the doorway and is visibly upset. She doesn’t find the time or the peace to sit down with you, but starts right away indignantly: “Well, what you’ve done there! That’s just not on!…”. What now? Of course you want to know what she wants from you in the first place. But is it a good idea to start a conversation when someone is already at 180? No. Of course not.
Remain calm, even if you feel offended by your colleague’s tone. Let her know that you want to listen to her and that you are interested in working together as well as possible. Make an appointment as soon as possible.
Most people have no idea how to give constructive feedback or communicate non-violently.
It’s a fine art to stay calm here. Perhaps it will help you to realize that people who shout feel helpless above all. Try to listen to the other person’s “I” message instead of the “YOU” message. What made her/him so upset?
You can ask questions in such a case.

  • What actually happened?
  • What does that do to you?
  • What do you need in this situation?
  • What do you want now?

If the person giving the feedback starts talking in a rage, you can ask them to talk about themselves and refrain from interpreting and swearing.
If this does not work and the heated temper remains aggressive, you should postpone the conversation. Unfortunately, no constructive result can be expected.

  • Signal that you are ready for appreciative cooperation.
  • Show that you would like to know what the other person is up to and what you can do to accommodate them.
  • But also show that you don’t want to be insulted.
  • Always remember: stay calm, even when it’s difficult.

Destructive feedback

Accepting constructive feedback

You received feedback and it was – at least on the whole – constructive.

  • Accept it. Thank the person you are talking to for describing their situation to you.
  • Accept what your conversation partner has observed.
  • Very important: listen!
  • Don’t get lost in justifications.
  • Try to understand what the other person needs and try to find a common denominator.
  • Ask if you don’t understand something.
  • Summarize what you have heard to make sure you understand correctly.
  • Take time to think about what has been said.
  • Please ask for a further meeting if necessary.


Accepting feedback as a manager

In most companies, the roles are clearly distributed. Managers give feedback and employees have to accept it. That’s it.
And if it goes the other way? – Supervisors often find this difficult.

Our advice:

Get used to it! Invite your employees to give you regular feedback. Listen and don’t comment. This gives you the chance to improve as a manager or to receive important tips and ideas for your team, your department or your project. In these times of rapid change, feedback is vital in order to find out when something is going in the wrong direction and adjustments need to be made.


It’s tricky for your employees to give their boss feedback. They often fear disadvantages or reprisals. If they get the impression that you don’t accept their feedback, that you don’t let them speak or even correct them, then their courage will soon be gone. The employees then usually withdraw and say nothing more. Before there’s trouble, it’s better to do things by the book… And that would be fatal for your success and the success of your team.



Feedback culture

It is worth introducing a feedback culture in your company.


What is a feedback culture?

A feedback culture means creating an atmosphere in which you and your coworkers can talk about how you can always improve your collaboration instead of negotiating who made a mistake or is to blame.


What characterizes a good feedback culture?

The basis of a functioning feedback culture is regular feedback that is constructive and perceived as a benefit by everyone involved.

Make sure that feedback is a permanent and integral part of your day-to-day business: Feedback is constantly given at short intervals and not just when something is due.

If everyone involved is used to receiving and giving feedback, the joint optimization of collaboration and performance becomes routine. Appreciative feedback motivates your employees: Their performance is recognized and they receive tips on how they can contribute to their full potential. Remember the studies in the first part of this article.

One tool that supports the development of a feedback culture is the retrospective from Scrum. We explain exactly how this works in our article The Scrum retrospective – explanation and practice.



Why is feedback culture important?

The world is changing faster and faster. Technical innovation, communication, customer requirements – the ability to adapt quickly is critical to success everywhere. This requires the ability to listen, reflect and learn.

However, in a corporate culture where feedback is perceived as an attack, no learning takes place. Only with an attitude that welcomes feedback such as “We need something different” as valuable information will your company become a learning organization. This requires a culture that enables self-reflection: How do we work together as a team? What am I like as a colleague? What do others need from me?



Why is a strong feedback culture so important in companies?

In the cultural processes that we support, one topic comes up again and again: “We need a much better feedback culture.”
And that is true: A change in corporate culture can only take place with feedback. There is no other way.
If someone behaves in a way that makes someone else feel uncomfortable and it’s not possible to talk about it, then nothing will change.
Only dialog and feedback lead to cultural change. And even if you want to establish an agile mindset, feedback is the central topic.


Positive corporate culture = feedback culture



Giving successful and constructive feedback

Feedback in all directions

  • Among colleagues
  • Employees > Manager
  • Management > Employees
  • Employees > Top management
  • Customer > Company





Conclusion Feedback and feedback culture

To summarize:

Feedback rules are among the most important of all communication rules!



If you have understood this for yourself, you have developed a basic understanding of good communication and will be able to get on with other people more often in your life.
Moreover, the ability to give constructive feedback is the basis for a good corporate culture!

The feedback rules are a building block for making feedback constructive and appreciative.
A culture in which regular feedback is given is the basis for growth and change.


Feedback Practice Tips


You can learn to give constructive feedback!

At berliner team, we often experience cross-hierarchical and cross-departmental feedback as one of the key success factors in corporate development processes. Managers and employees who embrace a new, different form of communication often describe the changes in corporate culture as astonishing. Perhaps you would like to find out too?

If you are interested in making your corporate culture more constructive and productive, then contact us!



Virtual feedback


Giving online feedback in home office and lockdown

No question: the best way to give feedback is to meet in person. This is the best way to perceive what is going on in the other person’s mind and adapt to each other emphatically. But we’ve all experienced it – be it the pandemic or simply physical distance: sometimes only working from home and Zoom conferences are possible. What to do?

Basically: If you see less of each other, you interpret more. We all do that. Unfortunately, in the absence of others, we tend to interpret their behavior negatively. We are much quicker to fear that others are somehow against us; we are quicker to attribute negative characteristics to them.

What helps?

  • Also looking for contact in between. If you’re working from home, give the other person a call and use the time for a bit of small talk.
  • And above all: go into feedback conversations much more quickly! Especially if you notice that something could be brewing. If it is not possible to meet the other person, at least try to do so via screen so that you can see each other. As you know, body language and facial expressions are extremely important!
  • Don’t wait too long! Things quickly pile up. And once a negative view of the other person has been established, every behavior is interpreted through this lens and this can lead to considerable relationship problems. The image of the scissors describes this very well: close together at the beginning, but far apart after a while, because the respective perspectives, the respective maps are clearly different from each other.
  • Feedback is needed here in order to come together again. Talk about how you are feeling, this creates closeness.


Feedback and meetings online

In pandemic times, we are all working with as little personal contact as possible: Video conferences and Zoom meetings are the order of the day. Many have questions:

  • What alternatives are there to Zoom?
  • Which ones are good and fit our requirements?
  • How do we design online meetings that are fun instead of boring?
  • How does the technology work? What do I need at all?
  • Which online whiteboards are suitable for virtual collaboration?

We answer these questions – and many more – in detail in our article

Zoom Meeting & video conferencing: How it works, alternatives, tips




Feedback tool


The best feedback tool: The feedback walk

Our absolute favorite feedback tool, which we also use in the private sector: The feedback walk.

Of course, this only works if you actually have the opportunity to go for a walk together. In times of lockdown, walks in pairs were permitted. Walks don’t just blow your mind. The fact that you walk side by side in the same direction instead of sitting opposite each other creates a sense of togetherness in terms of body language alone. You can also let your gaze wander and find the distance you need. Pauses in conversation and thinking during a walk are also completely normal, whereas in a conversation at the table, pauses are more likely to be seen as a “halting conversation”.

How does the feedback walk work?

We usually plan a route of 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back. It can also be shorter, depending on how much conversation is needed. If you’ve just had a feedback conversation or you’re clear on the relationship level, you might be able to do it in 15 minutes there and 15 minutes back. However, if there are more in-depth issues to be clarified, then take a little more time.

The division is quite simple: on the way there, one person talks and tells how they are, the other simply listens; on the way back, they switch. After that, everyone can digest what they have heard. And shortly afterwards, we get together again and look for solutions together.





Feedback interview guide

1. announce your feedback and agree on a time when you both have enough time!
2. find a room where you can be undisturbed!
3. a welcoming gesture – like bringing a coffee – can be a good start.
4. start with what you like!
5. describe what happened. Use an example.
6 Describe behavior, not character; don’t interpret!
7. stay calm; pay attention to body language and voice!
8. talk about yourself (I-messages) and how you feel about the behavior shown.
9. name what you need.
10. express what you wish to happen now.
11. show your vision of positive cooperation in the future.
12. name what you appreciate about the other person.
13. say thank you for listening.







Read more: Studies and articles on giving constructive feedback

Here are some articles that might interest you in connection with giving constructive feedback/successful feedback:

Article of the berliner team

External articles and studies on feedback

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Anna Isabell Arendt
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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