The Core Skills of Leaders # 4: Giving Constructive Feedback

New Article Series: Being the Lead in Your Physical Therapy Business

Core Skills 4

In our last article, we addressed taking corrective action. I chose to address that core skill before this one today, because I am currently working with a practice owner who had cues she needed to take corrective action with one of her clinicians. This very same practice owner is in truth the motivator behind this whole series of articles; she is determined to learn leadership skills so she can be more successful in business. How astute of her to recognize that her employees are her key  asset to business success! It is my hope you will also embrace the learning of leadership skills.

The Key Actions in this article today are designed to increase your effectiveness when you:

  • Hold ongoing performance discussions
  • Provide specific performance pointers
  • Follow up on coaching discussions
  • Give corrective guidance
  • Let someone know the consequences of their negative behavior

Use the Key Actions in this unit when you notice cues such as:

  • Someone asks for your opinion on how they are doing.
  • Unresolved problems persist.
  • Errors occur again and again.
  • An employee’s performance doesn’t meet expectations.
  • A peer’s work habits disturb you.

Key Actions for Giving Constructive Feedback are:

  1. State the constructive purpose of your feedback.
  2. Describe specifically what you have observed.
  3. Describe your reactions.
  4. Give the other person an opportunity to respond.
  5. Offer specific suggestions.
  6. Summarize and express your support.

Key Action 1: State the Constructive Purpose of Your Feedback


Stating or clarifying the purpose of your feedback right at the start provides the focus necessary for your communication to be effective. If you are initiating the feedback, this focusing prevents the other person from having to guess where you are heading. On the other hand, if they have requested feedback, a focusing statement insures that you direct your feedback toward what they need. Purposeful feedback is a powerful way to demonstrate Basic Principle 4 – “Take initiative to make things better.”


State your purpose by briefly indicating what you’d like to cover and why it’s important.

Useful phrases for stating your purpose are:

“I have a concern about ... “

‘I feel/need to let you know ... “

‘I want us to discuss ... “

‘I have some thoughts about ... “

Key Action 2: Describe Specifically What You Have Observed


Describing specific observations helps the other person understand exactly what you mean and accept it as “real” or valid. There are two separate but equally critical methods involved here:  being specific, and focusing on direct observations rather than on opinions or rumors.

Very general feedback may be more confusing than helpful. By being specific, you help the other person to identify exactly what your points are. Additionally, it’s important to separate what you have actually observed, from your opinions, or from what others have told you. Opinions tend to turn people off or make them defensive; rumors may simply be inaccurate. Starting with facts gives you a common ground on which to build.


To be specific when giving feedback, don’t talk vaguely about the way someone “usually” or “always” does things. Have a certain event or action in mind and be able to say when and where it happened, who was involved, and what the results were. Stick to what you personally observed, and don’t try to speak for others.

Key Action 3:  Describe your reactions.


Your reactions to what you have observed can provide very useful information to the other person. Submersed in their own perspectives and thought processes, most people can benefit from seeing themselves from another’s perspective. When you describe your reactions or the consequences of the observed behaviors, the other person can better appreciate the impact their actions are having on others and on the organization or team as a whole.


After you have described your observations specifically and accurately, offer your reactions. Explain the consequences of the other person’s behavior and how you feel about it. Give examples of how you and others are affected.

Key Action 4: Give the other person an opportunity to respond.


Allowing the person the chance to react to your feedback builds their self-esteem and shows that you recognize the value of their ideas or suggestions. Getting the other’s point of view – or making an overture for one – also creates an opportunity to check for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations. When you provide an opportunity for responses and reactions, you learn valuable tips on how things are going, gain a broader perspective, and foster open communication.


Most people will take up the conversation where you left off. However, if they hesitate, you have a couple of options for creating opportunities for response. One is to simply remain silent and meet the person’s eye, indicating that you are waiting for a reply.

Another is to ask an open-ended question.

“What do you think?”

“What is your view of the situation?”

“What are your reactions, Eric?”

Key Action 5: Offer Specific Suggestions


Feedback is rarely “constructive” if it is made up of only negative criticism, with no indication that your purpose in giving the feedback was to “make things better” (Basic Principle 4). Offering suggestions shows that your intent is genuine and that you have thought past your evaluations and moved on toward how to improve the situation.

Especially when your feedback is likely to be perceived as negative, specific suggestions encourage people to think constructively about bettering a situation that is working against them.

Even when someone is working up to expected standards, they often benefit from ideas that could help them to perform better. People learn from others suggestions when they illustrate a new or different way of doing things.


Whenever possible, make your suggestions helpful by including practical, feasible examples.

Dennis: “Ben, sometimes I write myself notes or put up signs to remind myself to do something.

Key Action 6: Summarize and Express Your Support.


By summarizing, you can avoid misunderstandings and check if your communication is clear. This summary is an opportunity to show your support for the other person, to conclude even a negative feedback situation on a positive note.


Review the major points you discussed. If you have given neutral feedback, emphasize the main points you wanted to convey.

Rod: ‘As I said, the way you guys figured out how to cover calls has contributed directly to the health of bottom line operations. You’ve really followed through on solving a tough problem. Please keep taking the initiative on problems like that.”

For corrective feedback, stress the main things you’ve discussed that the person could do differently. End on a positive note by communicating confidence in the person’s ability to improve the situation.

This now adds another unit to your leadership manual. You will notice how the basic core principles you learned in our introductory article are applied over and over again to differing situations. So once embraced they will guide you in all of your leadership actions. Don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions or any help you may want at

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