What’s the difference between positive and constructive feedback?

Positive feedback means noting things you are happy or pleased with a person or event. It’s a nice-to-have, but it doesn’t feed into the future. Constructive feedback is aimed at changing something for the better in the future. More specific examples would be coaching someone to improve their performance, pointing out someone’s mistakes so they can learn from them, and 10-minute warning so that you’re not caught off guard by something negative.

difference between positive and constructive feedback

What is positive feedback?

Positive feedback is feedback that focuses on the positive aspects of something. It’s a nice-to-have but doesn’t feed into the future. If you are trying to build a positive working culture then this is very important as it is the glue that holds a team together. It could be something as simple as a thank you lunch or Friday afternoon drinks.

What is constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is when you point out someone’s mistakes so they can learn from them. It is given with the intention of helping someone to improve. If you are trying to build a high performing team then this is essential because it allows your colleagues to solve problems and develop further.

How do you positively encourage constructive feedback?

Positive encouragement over constructive criticism is so important in the spirit of building a great culture that organisations often spend millions of dollars and take years to perfect. Ensure your behaviour is conducive to a productive working relationship.

Let people know what you want to happen as well as what you don’t want to happen by using phrases such as:

“I want things to improve but I’m not going insane”.

Open discussion before committing to feedback e.g. “Does that sound like something that you think will help us to improve?”.

Involving colleagues in the feedback process so they feel part of the solution. However, make sure they feel comfortable with giving feedback because if they aren’t then guess who is going to take it?

Why is positive encouraging constructive feedback so important?

Organisations spend millions of dollars trying to perfect their corporate culture only to find it isn’t fit for purpose. Often, this is due to a lack of positive encouragement for constructive feedback.

Take a look at the feedback culture of your organisation to see if it’s lacking. If you’re referring to your office culture then gather together a number of people who are comfortable giving constructive feedback and a few who prefer just receiving feedback. Place a piece of paper on stand (see below) where they can write down their comments. Ask them what is missing in their current workplace and how they feel about it. What do they want improved? Allow the group time to discuss and negotiate these ideas with each other as well as with you.

The importance of solutions in constructive feedback

A solution helps move the conversation on. If you’re giving feedback then you should always be aware of what you expect to hear from the person receiving it. This can make or break the relationship you have with them. Think of your feedback as the start of a journey; it’s not just what happens next but where you are going as well.

Elaborate on the solution you want to see happen so both of you know exactly where you’re going. For example, if someone says they want feedback on their ability to work well with others then be specific and elaborate on what they mean. Share your experience of dealing with the same situation as it helps them in understanding how you’ve dealt with it in the past and how that might help them now.

If someone is getting a lot of criticism about their negative behaviour then it can be helpful to suggest an alternative approach they could take. This can give the person some clarity on how they might change their behaviour in the future. If there are no clear solutions that you and the person receiving feedback both agree on, then it’s best to drop it. It’s far better to not continue with negative behaviours which are unhelpful than continuing with them indefinitely.

Be Specific and Concise in your feedback

To be more effective and avoid giving an unsolicited lecture on what’s wrong with the person you’re giving feedback to, keep your feedback short and succinct. Give a clear outline of the issue, and why you need to address it in the first place. You don’t want to ramble on about something that someone else may not even understand let alone identify with or care about.

This feedback style is often referred to as, “giving an objective and actionable next step”. It means you explain what needs to happen and give next steps so that the person listening can make the change you’re suggesting.

Real world examples of positive and constructive feedback

To help you understand these concept we have put together the following examples which will help you understand this in more detail.

Example 1: Bosses giving constructive feedback

Jack is an assistant manager at a department store. One day his boss, Joe, decides to take him out for a drink. They are having a nice conversation and Joe says he has some constructive feedback for Jack. Jack is afraid that Joe will not like his work as an assistant manager and will tell him to find another job. Joe starts by telling him that he needs to improve how he speaks with customers when they are in the store.

His solution is that Jack needs to take more time and care in what he says on his phone during the day. Joe says, “If you’re going to be on the phone all day then you need to make sure it’s important.” He then explains that because Jack has not spoken with customers well in the past, he doesn’t think they will be encouraged to buy something from them today or tomorrow.

The next step is for Jack to think about what he can do differently when he’s talking to customers and to take more time preparing for the day in order for him be more confident. Joe tells him that if he wants the respect of his colleagues then he also needs to start preparing his work so that they feel like there are no mistakes. He says that Jack should take more time with his work so that he feels confident with it rather than just sending it through the system.

It is best to leave Joe with the positive feedback he needs because he’s not going insane. He is simply pointing out Jack’s mistakes so that he can learn from them and improve his work and behaviour in the future. Jack has all of this information in order to use constructive feedback wisely.

Example 2: subordinates giving constructive feedback

Leah works as an account executive in a digital marketing company. One of the marketing guys, Sam, gives her feedback about things she does that he has noticed and want to improve. He says that he notices she is often not as proactive in getting involved with creating new products. She says she feels like it’s her responsibility to create the new products. She wants to be sure she’s doing it right and that the clients are going to like them. She is so busy that she doesn’t think of a better way to help.

Sam says, “I see your point. But you have other things you could be doing in order to do what you want. This is one of the best ways that I can think of for you to do it so that’s why I’m suggesting this as a solution. I can get you the latest information on how to do this so that you feel more confident and can give feedback to me after you have tried it.”

Leah thinks about what Sam said and decides to try his solution. She feels much better about trying it since he has given her a solution that she agrees with. It’s important for people in the workplace to speak their mind, but if they have a good idea then they should share it. You have more ideas than you think.

Example 3: Subordinates giving positive feedback

Amelie works in a sales department for a fashion company. She loves her job and feels very lucky to be working for the company she does. She has been at the company for 6 months and is starting to wonder if she will ever be promoted to a manager role. She’s not sure but would love that opportunity if it presents itself.

She tells one of the other sales people, Cassie, that she would love to be a manager at the company. Cassie says, “You have really good ideas. You’re not stuck in your head all the time and seem very logical… I’ve been in sales for over ten years and so I know when someone is being promoted it’s not based on their looks but on their skill level. If you continue to work hard then you can get where you want. I’m going to nominate you for their training program and then you’ll be able to show them how good you are.”

Amelie feels reassured that she could get promoted based on her skill. In the future when she is given constructive feedback she might think about it differently since she knows that it’s not just about her looks. She will also think about building more relationships with colleagues in order to help promote her career.


Examples of positive and constructive feedback can be tricky to understand at first. It is important to take the time to consider how you can use this in your own work life. You might feel that it’s not necessary for someone to tell you where you’re going wrong but if they have a good idea about how you can fix it then why not try it? That’s what constructive feedback is all about. It’s a dialogue between people in order to improve office dynamics.

If you’re interested in positivity and wanting to learn more about the positive mindset check out our guide here.

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