Mentoring: How To Give Constructive Feedback People Will Actually Listen To

Giving feedback can be difficult to get right. It can be quite a challenge to offer suggestions in a way that isn’t condescending but can be clearly understood. However, constructive feedback is essential if a mentee is to make progress and achieve continual improvement.

One of the key drivers in providing effective feedback is personality. By trying to understand your mentee’s personality, you will be able to frame your feedback to fit the other person’s preferences. Making the effort to learn how to adapt your feedback to suit your mentee’s personality can mean the difference between upsetting someone and helping them flourish.

Using a framework called DISC to classify personality types there are broadly 4 personality categories to which we refer: D (dominance), I (influence), S (steadiness), and C (conscientiousness). The differences between these types are extremely important in determining your approach for feedback conversations.

D Personality Types: The Winner

  • Motivated by control over the future and personal authority
  • Needs to achieve results more than anything else
  • Will take charge and get the job done, projecting confidence
  • May seem lacking in empathy and patience

Giving Feedback to D Types

Keep feedback straightforward and direct. Avoid talking around the issue. Directly address any concerns, challenge them to do better and help them work towards their goals. Make sure you offer concrete examples so they understand what is being asked of them. Use phrases like:

  • I want to challenge your thinking on this…
  • Here’s how it compares to the others…
  • Let’s go back to the goal we started with…
  • Do you want to take this feedback and try again?

Don’t be too gentle in your criticism
Don’t be vague
Don’t focus too much on process

I Personality Types: The Enthusiast

  • A social butterfly who is happiest gaining popularity and the approval of their peers
  • Skilled at building networks
  • Energetic and expressive

Giving Feedback to I Types

Optimistic, people-oriented I-types tend to appreciate when feedback is presented in a conversation. Help them feel comfortable by asking them questions or sharing what was good about their performance before diving into discussing anything negative. Make sure they have an opportunity to share their perspective and try to wrap-up the meeting with something positive. Try using phrases like:

  • This is only my opinion…
  • What motivated you to do this?
  • Let’s go through the weaker parts together…
  • What have the others said so far?

Don’t expect them to diagnose problems on their own
Don’t be too rigid in the expected results
Don’t require them to provide their own next steps
Don’t discourage their creativity

S Personality Types: The Peacekeeper

  • Values sincerity and dependability, always there to listen and support
  • May appear overly cautious at times
  • Open to all sides of an argument and look for a win-win solution

Giving Feedback to S Types

Patient, sensitive S-types generally prefer feedback which addresses what they do well in addition to discussing necessary improvements. They like to be appreciated for their hard work and will likely feel dejected if it goes unacknowledged. Avoid being overly harsh or serious in tone; instead, focus on presenting feedback in a gentle, patient way. Offer to help in areas where it may be needed. Try using phrases like:

  • I think you did very well there but to take it to the next level…
  • Would you be happy to have some help on this?
  • You clearly put a lot of time into this…

Don’t ask for all of their reasons for doing something
Don’t use competition as a motivator to improve
Don’t use an overly serious tone
Don’t be too intense in your critique

C Personality Types: The Analyst

  • Accuracy is what drives the data-focused Analyst
  • Won’t be swayed by emotion or pressure and can be difficult to get to know
  • Show personal restraint that hides their reactions and feelings

Giving Feedback to C Types

Detailed, analytical C-types tend to prefer feedback to be clear and specific. If you’re going to present a problem to C-types, make sure you work with them toward potential solutions; give them a chance to share ideas they may have. Focus on following a logical order within the meeting and avoid bringing in personal details, which may cause a loss of objectivity. Use phrases like:

  • How did you arrive at this solution?
  • This is the part that we specifically need to address
  • How would you do this differently?
  • Let’s go through this logically…

Don’t lose focus when they explain their thinking
Keep things objective rather than personal
Don’t question their ability
Don’t be open-ended with your opinions

Constructive feedback gives us the tools we need to grow and improve, but it needs to be presented in an empathetic way. Feedback can easily get lost in translation if the way you communicate isn’t tailored to the recipient’s personality type. When you make the effort to adapt your communication style and offer feedback in a way that helps the other person to develop, greater success will result from the conversation.