Pros: Tons of helpful hints; lots of detail
Cons: Silly-looking symbols?
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 7/18/2002
Recently I reviewed “Giving and Receiving Feedback,” a workbook that provided good, solid ideas on, well, giving and receiving feedback, but which seemed to be missing a couple of important elements. By contrast, “Constructive Feedback” (by Roland and Frances Bee) manages to include everything that other book missed! I almost didn’t buy this little, innocuous book. It’s barely more than pamphlet-sized (68 pages plus), has a distressing pink-and-orange color scheme on the cover, and came with no description whatsoever at the internet bookseller I frequent. That seemed like a bit of a risk – buying a book based solely on the title. Still, I’ve been finding it difficult to find books on constructive criticism, so I gave it a try. I’m quite glad I did!
Chapter 1: The book starts with 8 full pages on the topic of “what is constructive feedback?” Not just theoretical stuff here, but specific criteria for telling it apart from destructive criticism. I actually found this section surprisingly useful – I’ve found that a lot of people misunderstand what constructive criticism is, and this chapter would make it very easy to explain the differences.
Chapter 2: “Using constructive feedback” contains information on why constructive feedback is worth taking the time to do; what circumstances it might be used under (coaching, team performance, etc.); and plenty of sample interactions to help you really understand the difference. (I.e., a paragraph showing how a manager or counselor might handle a situation poorly, and then showing how they might handle it constructively.)
Chapter 3: The book also covers “the 10 tools of giving constructive feedback.” This chapter takes you step-by-step through the various skills involved in giving constructive feedback. You’ll learn such things as the value of figuring out ahead of time how much criticism a person can handle, and catering to that so as not to overwhelm people. There’s information on choosing and setting up the right environment in which to give feedback, how to communicate effectively, and much more. Some of these are general skills helpful in dealing with people; others are specific strategies to be used with constructive feedback.
Chapter 4: “Challenging feedback situations” is one of my favorite sections of this book. It covers the various ways in which people might react badly to criticism, and how to handle that. The authors insist that you see these situations as challenging feedback situations instead of dealing with difficult people – that if you see these situations as opportunities to improve your feedback skills, you’ll get a whole lot farther.
This is one of the things that was seriously missing in the other book I reviewed. This book goes on to describe a handful of the most common unhelpful reactions to criticism, and the things you can do to turn them around. Not just at that moment, but in terms of how you do things in general. It covers people who disagree with your feedback; people who are uninterested in or unconcerned with feedback; people who become shocked or upset; people who become angry; and people who deny your right to give them feedback.
Chapter 5: This chapter covers the topic of receiving feedback. After all, as this book points out, feedback has to be a two-way thing. You can’t expect people to take feedback from you without being willing to accept it from them. It discusses why feedback is helpful to us, how you feel when you get feedback, how you can get constructive feedback from those around you, how to deal with destructive criticism, and more. I think my favorite point in this chapter is that “feedback is a gift” – you owe it to yourself to consider it, evaluate it, and perhaps make changes based on it.
Chapter 6: This chapter covers “continuously improving your feedback skills.” It makes the very valuable point that we are, in some form, giving and receiving feedback almost all the time. This is a short chapter, but it includes a couple of forms you can fill out whenever you give or receive constructive feedback, to help you figure out whether you’re handling it well.
Finally, the book ends up with a short reading list and descriptions of other books put out by the same publisher on similar topics. Some of them actually look quite interesting.
A Few Thoughts…
“Giving and Receiving Feedback” approached constructive criticism largely as though it were a knowledge – something you simply learn, and then either you know it or you don’t. “Constructive Feedback” approaches it more like a skill – something you practice and become gradually better at. I think this is the more realistic and healthier (not to mention helpful) approach. It also includes plenty of helpful explanations, and lots of detail on what works, what doesn’t, and why. It’s quite detailed, clearly written and easily understandable. Like many constructive feedback books seem to be, this one is primarily aimed at managers and workplace situations, but it tries to interject a few thoughts on the use of constructive feedback in other situations as well. While this book perhaps does a poorer job than the last at remembering to address non-work situations, its principles are more adaptable and universal – overall, making it the better book even where non-work situations are concerned. For work-related situations it’s particularly useful!
The (Very Tiny) Negatives
This book does provide one or two small bits of advice that contradict the last book, and in this case I tend to side with the other book. For example, “Giving and Receiving Feedback” made a good case for why feedback shouldn’t be given publicly, even when it’s positive, and for why you should give negative feedback first – followed by the positive. “Constructive Feedback” recommends the opposite in both cases. However there are only one or two points like this, and you could probably expect several such different theories in any such set of books.
This book was first published in the UK, and in a very few places it does use terms that Americans might not be familiar with. Luckily you can usually puzzle out what they mean, and most of them are only found in the examples, not in the text itself. Also, as a stylistic thing – for some reason the authors chose to mark their bullet lists with a series of funny symbols instead of normal bullet points. It looks silly, but doesn’t adversely affect your reading of the book.
Overall I think this is a fabulous book for anyone wishing to improve their ability to deal with people effectively. There’s plenty of detail, lots of good advice, and solid, specific suggestions all the way around.