Two colleagues dressed business causally walking down an office hallway.
Passive voice is often frowned upon by writers, but it has its uses when giving feedback. Removing the subject from a sentence may keep criticism from sounding like an attack. — Getty Images/Goodboy Picture Company

Offering feedback to an employee who is also your peer can feel awkward. Even the best-intentioned feedback can sometimes be poorly received. However, delivering constructive criticism is a necessary, valuable part of the performance review process. It’s also a key skill to learn as you advance in your career and take on more leadership roles. Consider taking some of these tactics when giving constructive feedback in your next peer review.

Understand what makes feedback “constructive”

Constructive feedback is often misconstrued as good advice. Advice, however, focuses on what someone should do. Even well-meaning advice can come across as condescending — especially when coming from a peer.

Instead, frame your feedback as reinforcing or redirecting. For a task or a skill you believe someone has been performing well, reinforce that behavior. For a potential area of improvement, redirect their energy with an alternative behavior.

What does this look like in practice? CultureAmp offers the following reinforcing phrases:

  • “Something I really appreciate about you is...." (e.g., “Something I really appreciate about you is your creativity under pressure.”)
  • “One of the things I admire about you is…”
  • “I can see you’re having a positive impact in…”

Some redirecting phrases offered by CultureAmp include:

  • “Do you have a moment to catch up about how X went?” (This can be used after a presentation or project to help start a conversation and redirect someone’s activities toward something more suited to their skill set).
  • “Can we debrief on X?” (This gives you the opportunity to have a two-way, open conversation about a specific project or meeting).

Ultimately, the more specific and timely you can be with your constructive feedback, the better.

Feedback that comes from a growth mindset focuses on future behavior, rather than something in the past that can’t be changed.

Framing is everything

The language you use can play an outsized role in how your feedback is received. For example, most experts recommend using passive voice when delivering constructive criticism. “Passive voice removes the person taking action from the sentence. This can be a useful tool when providing constructive criticism to ensure your colleague doesn't feel attacked,” wrote Indeed.

Likewise, if there’s a specific issue you need to address, focus on the problem rather than the person. Addressing actions that need to happen (or stop happening) removes any risk of feeling personally slighted and can make someone more receptive to your constructive feedback.

[Read more: 6 Ways to Balance Managing Employees While Giving Them Freedom]

Finally, when giving reinforcing constructive feedback, try to avoid using words like “but” and “however” in the same sentence. This can make your positive input sound insincere.

Make it a two-way street

Ideally, constructive feedback is delivered with an open mind. If you’re not participating in a formal performance review, ask your peer if they have any feedback they’d like to share with you. Encourage them to ask questions and make suggestions. When people feel like they’re being heard and taken seriously, they’re more likely to accept feedback in return. Ideally, you want constructive feedback to feel like it’s something delivered to benefit not just the employee but the entire team, too.

Adopt a growth mindset

Feedback that comes from a growth mindset focuses on future behavior, rather than something in the past that can’t be changed. As HubSpot Marketing Director Rebecca Corliss points out, getting feedback on something that has already taken place isn’t always helpful.

“Most folks see feedback as a time to sit down and tell people what they're doing wrong or what they need to do better. While that can be true, I think there's a better way to view feedback: offering people a reflection of themselves that they may not be able to see,” she said.

As you think about delivering constructive feedback, do so in a way that helps someone progress their career, reach their goals, and learn new ways to use their talent. Frame your feedback to reinforce what someone does well and redirect them from a potential weakness.

[Read more: To Thrive in the Modern Business World, Embrace a Growth Mindset]

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