5 tips to handle constructive feedback effectively

For nurses and midwives, being able to give and receive constructive feedback is an essential skill and key component of reflective practice that facilitates continuous learning and development.

Delivered well, constructive feedback is a valuable tool that helps nurses and midwives build on their strengths and identify areas for improvement.

“When it comes to constructive feedback it’s all in the delivery,” says ANMF Senior Federal Professional Officer Julianne Bryce.

“There’s an appropriate way to do it that promotes professional development and helps nurses and midwives improve their scope of practice.

“Giving and receiving constructive feedback is part of all walks of life and an essential component of working in teams in healthcare settings. Reflective practice is important for everybody; thinking about what you did well and what you could do differently or better.

Constructive feedback is important because nurses and midwives must be accountable and responsible for their practice and learning.”

Ms Bryce says constructive feedback is especially important for early career nurses and midwives finding their feet and trying to link theory into practice.

Early career nurses and midwives should expect to receive constructive feedback throughout their careers and must develop resilience and confidence in their own ability to do the job to be able to take the advice on board, she adds.

Feedback can be provided from numerous sources, including colleagues, patients, managers and clinical educators.

“The majority of graduates struggle with time-management and attention to detail so a lot of constructive feedback is in relation to how they might adapt to that,” Ms Bryce explains.

“That might involve how to link their theory into their practice and how to organise their time better and pay attention to the detail that’s required to provide the best care. It’s a sharp learning curve for early career nurses and midwives and that feedback should be viewed as a positive step towards their development rather than they’re not achieving.”

Ms Bryce says some early career nurses ask lots of questions while others don’t’ ask enough.

It takes time to build trust within a team and develop the ability to balance initiative with working within one’s scope of practice, she adds.

Reflecting on her own experience entering the nursing profession, Ms Bryce remembers being a graduate who asked a lot of questions and receiving this feedback from her preceptor three months into her career:

“I want you to think about whether you can answer the question before you ask it. I want you to think about how you might find that information yourself,” her preceptor told her.

Ms Bryce says the feedback encouraged her to reflect on what she could resource by herself and improved her ability to assess situations and identify the right questions to ask moving forward.

“It just made me more independent and allowed me to go about my practice and recognise when to ask my colleagues questions and when to take the ownership myself. I found that a really good tool for the future and used that not only for myself but when advising other early career nurses that I worked with, to think about how I could be resourceful enough to find out things for myself while continuing to ask the important questions I needed to.”

Ms Bryce shared her top 5 tips on how nurses and midwives can handle constructive feedback effectively with the ANMJ.

Take the initiative

“Be proactive and seek out feedback and do it on a regular basis,” Ms Bryce advises.

“Don’t wait for someone to tell you how you’re going. Choose the right time and take the initiative to ask for constructive feedback so you can identify areas for improvement.”

Seek specific examples to help you understand the feedback

When receiving constructive feedback, it’s important to ask for specific examples so you can process it and work on solutions to address potential issues, Ms Bryce says.

“Ask what did I do well? What can I do better? Seek specific examples to help you understand the feedback in order to learn and develop.”

Listen respectfully

It’s easy to become defensive and react negatively to the first sign of constructive feedback but Ms Bryce stresses it is important nurses and midwives remain calm and remember the benefits of receiving feedback.

“Listen closely and respectfully to the feedback and take it on board. Avoid questioning the person’s feedback and instead focus on understanding their perspective and acknowledging and valuing their input.”

Stop being your worst critic

“We all need to walk before we can run but sometimes you’ll be harder on yourself than you need to be,” Ms Bryce says.

“It’s important to focus on the positives and what you’re good at and not be too hard on yourself and place unrealistic expectations on yourself as an early career nurse. All of us had to start somewhere and constructive feedback is often the only way we learn about our strengths and weaknesses and our responsibility and accountability for autonomous practice.”

Find someone to help you deconstruct the feedback

Ms Bryce says it’s important nurses and midwives find support networks, not necessarily from the professions, to help them learn from the feedback.

“A lot of us do it with our partners or parents. Take a moment, take a breath, take it all in and reflect on how you can use the feedback. It doesn’t always have to be someone that understands the context of your practice, it’s just a sounding board, preferably someone who knows you, who can offer a really good perspective.

“If constructive feedback is imparted really well, and you have the skills to process it, then it can be truly constructive and actually contribute to your development.”

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