Constructive Feedback

Dealing with problems in groups involves more than just recognising a problem. Students need to feel comfortable discussing problems publicly and deciding on what they will do to resolve them.

Offering constructive feedback may come naturally to some students, but many have had no experience in this area. Provide some simple tips or a checklist on constructive feedback. This can help to avoid emotionally driven conflicts that can lead to significant problems. It can also improve students’ ability to deal with issues in groups.

Use the following handout as a set of guidelines for students to refer to, or as a checklist when they review their group's ability to use constructive feedback.

Student handout

Giving and receiving constructive feedback in groups

Guidelines for GIVING feedback

  • Be descriptive rather than evaluative. For example, "You didn’t bring the notes to the team, which we agreed you would," rather than "You are lazy and unreliable." If you describe what you actually see and hear, this reduces the other person's inclination to react defensively.
  • Reveal your own position or feelings. For example, "I felt intimidated when you argued your point," rather than "You were very aggressive." Describing your own reaction leaves the other person free to use this feedback or not, as they see fit.
  • Be specific rather than general. For example, "When you spent 10 minutes trying to find your data I lost interest," rather than “You are disorganised.”
  • Feedback is more effective when it is requested rather than offered unsolicited. You can ask someone, "Would you like some feedback?" But if they say "No", don't impose it.
  • Check the accuracy of your feedback with others in the team to see if they noticed and felt the same things.
  • In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity following the given behaviour.
  • Check that you have communicated your feedback clearly. Ask the person to rephrase your feedback in order to see if it corresponds closely to what you intended.

Guidelines for RECEIVING feedback

  • Listen to the feedback. Try to understand the other person's feelings.
  • Give the feedback serious consideration and weigh up the consequences of changing or not changing. Don't reject it immediately.
  • Express your thoughts and feelings about the feedback and about possible changes in your behaviour: for example, "What you say feels about right, but if I tried what you are suggesting then I would probably feel…"
  • Tell the person whether you intend to try to change, and in what ways.
  • Tell the person what they could do to help you change, for example: "If you notice me getting like that again, can you give me a quiet nudge?"
  • Express appreciation of their concern; say, "Thank you for the feedback."

Adapted from G. Gibbs (1994), Learning in Teams: A Student Manual, Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Centre for Staff, p. 47.