Giving Feedback and Protecting Self-Esteem at The Same Time

It’s crucial to protect an individual’s self-esteem by all means necessary while giving constructive feedback.

One of the many books I admire is Maximum Achievement, written by Brian Tracy. It’s a book I reread periodically to refresh and improve my knowledge in self-improvement. Maximum Achievement covers a variety of topics from success to successful parenting. The suggestions in the book are easy to follow and easy to apply in real life.

One of the author’s suggestions on giving constructive feedback focuses on improving processes while protecting the relevant person’s self-esteem. The main reason why the author emphasizes this aspect is simple: poor performance or mistake is usually caused by limited skill, incomplete information, or misunderstanding. The person who makes a mistake or a poor job already feels bad about his capabilities, so it does not make sense to criticize him with words that will hurt his/her self-worth even further.

The author suggests the below steps in giving constructive feedback:

  1. Start by protecting the individual’s self-esteem: In the case of an employee or team-member, you can use phrases like, “I know you’ve been working hard on this issue, and I really appreciate the effort you put into it.” Similarly, when giving feedback to a child, it’s better to start with phrases such as, “I love you very much.”
  2. Emphasize the future, not the past: It’s no use to cry over spilled milk. None of us possess a magic wand to change the past. We have the most control over our future actions. Use phrases like, “What do you think we can do differently moving forward?” or “Next time, why don’t you try…?”
  3. Point to the behavior or the performance. Don’t point your finger at the person: Using expressions such as, “You did this and that’s why that happened.” sounds accusatory in every language. No one likes to hear accusatory phrases because it threatens one’s ego and identity. Instead, use phrases such as, “Your recent performance sheet shows a little decline. What do you need to increase them?” In case the of a messy bedroom of a child, you can say, “I’ve noticed that you are having difficulty finding your toys. What do you need to do to improve your room?”
  4. Take ownership of your feelings: Again, using phrases like “You make me very sad.” is an accusatory expression. No one welcomes accusatory phrases. Instead, try taking ownership of how you feel when a certain event takes place by saying, “I feel very upset when this happens and I would like to talk to you about how we can improve things.” With your child, you can use sentences such as, “I feel disrespected when you leave your schoolbag in the middle of the living room and I would like to talk to you about how we can solve this issue.”
  5. Collaborate on a clear roadmap: Involve the other party to work out the problems. Set clear rules on what needs to change, when and by how much.
  6. Offer help: The person in front of you will accept your feedback more willingly if you show that you are there to help him/her. This is especially an important step in your communication with your children. Children need to know that their parents will be by their side to support them at all times.
  7. Make sure your feedback comes from a kind place: As mentioned above, most of the time, mistakes happen because of limited capabilities, missing information, or misunderstanding. Be kind to the person in front of you at all times. And again, with children, you need to be twice as careful not to hurt their feelings.

We all possess the power to make this world a better place one step at a time. And it all starts with kind and constructive communication between individuals. Moving forward, which one of the above suggestions do you think you can apply in your interactions? What other strategies would you suggest to improve the constructive feedback mechanism?

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