We have all been on the receiving end of feedback. But how often is it constructive? By that I mean, how often is it genuinely designed to build us up rather than bring us down?
Constructive feedback, when delivered correctly, can be a powerful tool for growth, especially in the field of peer support.
However, you may be a little nervous in giving constructive feedback, and for good reason! If done incorrectly, it can become a destructive force and end up doing more harm than good. As fellow peer support specialists, we know that this is the last thing you would want.
That is why we are going to go in depth into how to deliver constructive feedback in peer support. Moreover, we will give you actionable tips as well as the reasons behind them.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Understanding Constructive Feedback: The Why
In order to understand how to give constructive feedback, we must first understand the why. In peer support, feedback creates a pathway to learning and growth.
It’s about providing insights that can help our peers recognize their strengths, while also acknowledging areas for improvement.
In other words, we aren’t just giving opinions, we are empowering them to become the best version of themselves. When offered from a place of compassion, feedback can build trust and mutual respect. It shows that we genuinely care and are invested in the relationship.
Principles of Constructive Feedback
There truly is an art to providing feedback. Like any other skill, there are certain principles that guide the process. They’re the foundation of every word and action, which shapes the feedback and how it Is received.
Begin From a Place of Empathy and Understanding
First and foremost, we need to establish our intentions of building someone up. As peer support specialists, we have firsthand experience of the challenges that come with recovery.
Because of this, we are in a unique position to apply empathy and understanding to the feedback we provide.
In other words, by sharing our similar experiences, we can create an atmosphere of compassion rather than judgement. This can often serve as a bridge to providing constructive feedback.
By acknowledging that we have been in a similar position, it shows that it is a normal experience. Moreover, that growth and change is possible.
Most of the time, feedback comes from a place of authority. It might be from a boss, supervisor, or even a teacher. As peer support specialists, we can approach the situation from a place of equality. To do this, we only have to be ourselves.
We are no different from the individuals we support, we simply have experience in overcoming certain obstacles. This is, in part, why our feedback can be so powerful.
Because it is coming from a place of authenticity.
Be Specific and Objective
Instead of vague statements like “good job” or “You’re doing well”, we should pinpoint what it is we mean. In other words, what specifically are you acknowledging? Maybe they are beginning to open up in the group or maybe they overcame a challenging situation on their own.
Alternatively, maybe a person is interrupting during group or oversharing. In any case, we should be specific in our feedback. Otherwise, the message might be lost or misunderstood.
Being objective simply means that our feedback focuses on observable behaviors, not personal feelings or assumptions. This is important to remain fair and unbiased, which helps build trust in the process.
Aim For Balance
Remember, tearing someone down is not the goal. We don’t want to seem like we are attacking the person we are supporting.
Rather, constructive feedback balances any critiques with positive observations to encourage growth.
If the only factors being talked about are negative, it can be discouraging and counterproductive.
Let individuals know where their strengths are and the progress they have made. It’s not about sugarcoating the truth but offering a rounded perspective.
One that uplifts, while constructively acknowledging areas for growth.
Create a Positive Atmosphere
This might be the most fundamental principle to providing constructive feedback. Mainly, because it won’t matter how balanced or specific a comment is, if the atmosphere is negative and tense it won’t be received well.
We should encourage open dialogue and respect the views of the individuals we support. This way, everyone can feel safe when sharing and receiving feedback.
And yes, you should be willing to receive constructive feedback as well!
Encourage peers to share their thoughts and opinions. In other words, make sure everyone knows that feedback is a two-way street.
Moreover, it lets people know that their voice is valued and constructive feedback can be a source of growth rather than anxiety.
This creates a supportive space where everyone feels heard and validated. Not to mention, if you are working with a group, this can strengthen the group and help inspire constructive conversations between peers.
Plus, this allows you, as the peer support specialist, to model receiving feedback in a healthy and respectful way.
How To Give Constructive Feedback In Peer Support
Constructive feedback is not just about what you say—it’s also about when, where, and how you say it. With so many ways that things could be misconstrued, its important to be effective with your delivery.
Before providing feedback, make sure you are clear about what you want to say. Moreover, try to understand the context and dynamics of the situation. This will help you plan how to best communicate your observations.
Start by taking a step back and look at the situation objectively. Remember, this isn’t about personal feelings or assumptions.
Stick to the facts.
While looking at areas for improvement, don’t forget to look at what strengths were demonstrated. This is important as it provides balance and encourages further improvement.
Additionally, try to anticipate any possible reactions and prepare for how to handle them. Overall, clarity is the name of the game. If your feedback is vague or missing context, it can come off sounding like an attack.
This is the big moment, and it should be handled with sensitivity and compassion. If possible, feedback should always be delivered in a private, neutral space to respect the person’s dignity and to prevent unnecessary embarrassment.
Remember, the goal is not to shame but to encourage growth.
As you begin the conversation, clearly express the purpose of the feedback. Start on a positive note, highlighting their strengths before moving on to areas for improvement. This approach sets a positive tone and shows your intention to help rather than harm.
Use clear, respectful language and ensure that your tone and body language convey empathy and understanding, not hostility or condescension. Be direct but kind; assertive, not aggressive.
Also, invite them to share their perspective. Remember, effective feedback is a dialogue, not a monologue. Encourage questions, respond thoughtfully, and truly listen to what they have to say.
This way, you establish a sense of collaboration and mutual respect, which is key in making the feedback process effective.
We understand that the process of giving constructive feedback can be a little uncomfortable. That being said, it doesn’t have to be. Remember feedback is about more that just pointing out flaws.
In truth, its about creating conversation.
While it may not always be possible, taking time to prepare can be extremely helpful. When you have a clear understanding of what you are going to be saying, it reduces the risk of misunderstandings.
Like any other peer support skill, constructive feedback can be learned and developed over time.
Let’s look at some techniques that help get you started.
Effective Techniques for Giving Constructive Feedback
In this section, we’ll explore four useful techniques—the Sandwich Technique, the DESC Method, and two additional methods, the Stop-Start-Continue Approach and the SBI Method.
The Sandwich Technique
One commonly used technique in delivering feedback is the Sandwich Technique. Here, a piece of constructive critique is “sandwiched” between two positive comments. The idea is to start with a positive observation, followed by the critique, and end on another positive note.
The idea is to ease the sting of criticism and to leave the person feeling valued and motivated. By starting and ending with positive feedback, you’re framing the critique within a broader context of their strengths and achievements.
This helps show growth, while also pointing out areas of improvement.
The DESC Method
The DESC Method is another effective technique for giving constructive feedback. DESC stands for Describe, Express, Specify, and Consequences. It provides a clear, structured approach to feedback, ensuring that the message you’re trying to convey is delivered directly and efficiently.
Describe: Begin by describing the specific behavior that you observed.
Express: Express your feelings about this behavior and its impact on you or the group.
Specify: Specify the change you would like to see.
Consequences: Discuss the positive consequences that will follow if the change is made.
The key in this method is discussing the positive consequences. In other words, what positive things can the individual expect after making these changes. This helps establish motivation and incentive to follow through.
For example, you might point out that an individual is quiet and reserved in the group. Next, you might note that you feel as though the group is missing out on her experience and strength.
Afterwards, you could respectfully ask and encourage that individual to think about sharing and opening up.
Finally, you could discuss that by sharing, they will be able to establish new friendships and connections. Moreover, they might be able to help someone else with their experience.
By following this structure, you can ensure that your feedback is objective, focused, and tied to achievable outcomes.
The Stop-Start-Continue Method
This is a straightforward technique that simplifies feedback into three categories—what the individual should stop doing, start doing, and continue doing.
Stop: Identify the behaviors that are unproductive or detrimental and need to stop.
Start: Highlight the actions or behaviors you’d like them to start implementing.
Continue: Acknowledge the positive behaviors they’re already displaying and should continue.
I’ve noticed that you sometimes interrupt other members of the group. It would be helpful if you could raise your hand when you have something to share. You have good insights that add value to the conversation, and I want you to be able to share them.
This approach gives clear, actionable steps for improvement, offering an overall view of what’s going well and what needs to change
The SBI Method
Lastly, the SBI Method—Situation, Behavior, and Impact—provides another structured approach to feedback. Honestly, I am not so much a fan of this method because it does not address the positives in the situation. Truth be told, I would use this method more as a last resort.
Every once in a while, you may encounter an individual who is disrespectful or aggressive. In these situations, this method can be useful because it highlights the effects of those behaviors on others.
Situation: Describe the situation in which the behavior occurred.
Behavior: Detail the specific behavior you’re addressing.
Impact: Explain the impact of this behavior on you, the group, or the task.
During group you said some disrespectful things to other members. I felt like it caused some tension when you stated that this group was stupid and that everyone here was weak.
When comments like this are made, it can discourage others and may cause someone to feel bad about themselves.
This method must be used carefully, so as not to seem like an attack on the individual. However, when used effectively, it can help individuals understand how their actions are affecting others.
Choosing The Right Method
Different situations call for different methods. It is important to consider all factors before choosing how and when to provide feedback. The individual, the environment, the relationship, and the context of the situation are all important.
Which ever method you choose, remember to always approach the process with empathy, understanding, and a genuine desire to promote growth.
The Role of Active Listening in Giving Feedback
As we mentioned before, constructive feedback isn’t a one-way street. It’s a dialogue, a shared understanding that’s built on not only speaking but also listening.
At the heart of any constructive conversation is understanding, and active listening is a powerful tool to make it happen.
When giving feedback, it’s important to listen as much as you talk. By actively listening, you allow the person to express their views, feelings, and any possible reservations.
The Process Is A Two Way Street
It also helps you grasp their perspective and tailor your responses accordingly. This two-way dialogue ensures a shared understanding of what needs to be improved and how.
Moreover, active listening signals respect for the other person’s point of view. It shows you’re not just there to impose your ideas but to understand theirs as well.
Here at MHAPSS, we bring up the concept of active listening again and again.
It is the foundation for all we do as peer support specialists. Applying empathy and understanding, along with active listening, constructive feedback can be a source of encouragement and support.
Dealing With Resistance to Feedback
Feedback, even when delivered effectively and with the best of intentions, is not always welcomed with open arms. In all reality, there numerous reasons why there may be resistance to feedback.
However, the two primary causes are primarily emotional reactions and misunderstandings.
Understanding Emotional Reactions
Feedback can trigger feelings of defensiveness, fear, or inadequacy. Which in turn, might cause the person to reject the feedback outright, regardless of its validity.
The key to this process is delivering feedback in a respectful, non-threatening manner. This helps alleviate defensive reactions and encourages a more receptive attitude.
When faced with resistance, fall back to empathy and understanding. Emphasize that feedback is a tool for growth and learning, not a personal attack or critique of their worth. More importantly, open the door for conversation.
Encouraging Open Conversations
An environment that encourages open, honest communication can help address concerns and clear up misunderstandings. Encourage individuals to express their feelings, thoughts, and concerns regarding the feedback.
Ask open-ended questions and show your willingness to listen and understand their perspective. This not only helps resolve any issues but also can also strengthen the peer support relationship.
Moreover, encourage mutual feedback. This not only helps maintain balance but creates a sense of equality and shared responsibility for growth and improvement. When everyone feels they have a voice and their feedback matters, it can significantly reduce resistance.
This sets the tone for a growth-oriented environment.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Giving Feedback
Giving feedback is a delicate process, and it’s easy to fall into certain pitfalls if you’re not careful. To be effective in this process, it’s essential to be aware of and avoid common mistakes.
Here, we’ll explore two common errors: generalizing feedback and focusing on negative criticisms.
One common mistake when giving feedback is making generalized statements. Generalizations, such as “you always” or “you never,” can be detrimental.
They can make the receiver feel unfairly judged and, in some cases, can lead to defensiveness.
Instead of generalizing, keep your feedback specific to behaviors and situations. Use concrete examples to illustrate your points, focusing on the action, not the person.
For instance, instead of saying, “You’re always late for meetings,” a more specific and constructive feedback would be, “I noticed you were late for the last groups. This disrupts the flow of the group and can be distracting for other members. Can we discuss how to improve this?”
Another common mistake is focusing solely on negative criticisms. While it’s important to point out areas for improvement, focusing solely on the negatives can be demotivating and hinder growth.
More importantly, it can create a negative atmosphere, discourage the individual (or possibly the group), and potentially cause resentment.
Moreover, when giving negative feedback, focus on the future rather than the past. Instead of dwelling on what the person did wrong, emphasize how they can improve moving forward. This approach transforms feedback into a constructive, forward-looking tool for growth.
Encouraging Continuous Growth
In a field as dynamic as peer support, learning and growth should be ongoing processes. By regularly sharing (and receiving) constructive observations and suggestions, we keep growth and improvement at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
It instills a mindset of progress, where setbacks are seen not as failures, but as stepping stones towards improvement.
Moreover, regular feedback creates an environment of accountability, not only for the individuals in the group, but for peer specialists as well.
It encourages us to continually self-assess, reflect on our practices, and make necessary adjustments.
Overall, when we make the process of giving and receiving feedback a collaborative process, it benefits everyone involved. On the surface, it provides specific information on areas for improvement, which encourages growth and change.
However, on a deeper level, it helps develop interpersonal and communication skills. As individuals learn how to provide and receive feedback on their own, they can build the confidence to be successful in recovery.
Here’s the truth, we often underestimate other’s desire for feedback.
Think about it, if someone knew how you could improve and become better, wouldn’t you want them to tell you?
Speaking of feedback, we would love to get yours. Could you leave a comment and let us know how we could improve?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Constructive Feedback Important in Peer Support?
Constructive feedback allows for growth and improvement, not only for the individual but for the peer support relationship. It helps individuals understand their strengths, as well as where they can improve.
When is the Right Time to Give Constructive Feedback?
When it comes to constructive feedback, timing is everything. Avoid giving feedback during crisis situations and during emotionally charged moments. Ideally, it should be given when both parties are open to discussion. Scheduled check-ins can be a good time for this.
How Should Peer Support Workers Give Constructive Feedback?
When giving constructive feedback, the key is to be empathetic and understanding of the situation. In other words, try to avoid sounding judgmental or condescending. Whichever method you choose to give constructive feedback, keep these things in mind.
How Can Peer Support Workers Handle Receiving Constructive Feedback?
Being open to receiving feedback is equally important. Listen attentively, don’t get defensive, and ask for clarification if needed. Moreover, take time to reflect on the feedback and make plans to improve. This applies to feedback from supervisors as well as from the individuals you serve.
Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.