An increasing number of companies are incorporating more frequent feedback among teams and managers rather than relying on traditional annual performance reviews.
Believe it or not, staff want regular feedback so that they know whether their work is meeting expectations. Moreover, a Gallup found that even employees who say they tend to receive negative feedback wish they'd get more feedback, and employees who receive negative feedback still tend to be more engaged than when they don't receive feedback at all.
Feedback is communication, and clear communication keeps projects on track. Moreover, regular feedback allows issues to be addressed before they fester into a bigger problem.
This article offers practical tips on giving feedback to direct reports, coworkers, and, most importantly, to a manager (careful here!). Learn how to give feedback the right way.
A one-on-one should always be conducted in private. That is because an effective feedback meeting is an opportunity to have a two-way, interactive conversation. Just because you may have nothing negative to say doesn’t mean the other person doesn't have a grievance of some kind.
Even having coffee to discuss sensitive matters is not a good idea because there may be people in the vicinity who can overhear. If frank and open discussion is the goal, respect people’s feelings and have a private face-to-face meeting.
Learn more on giving feedback, read "How to Lead a Performance Review."
Regular feedback is more conducive to a healthy work environment because issues get solved as they arise. It’s better to address something shortly after something has happened rather than wait for two weeks to pass before bringing it to someone’s attention. Why? For one thing, if you wait two weeks, the person might feel confused as to why it wasn’t addressed earlier. They might feel blindsided. If issues are tackled in a timely manner, employees can relax because they know any problems will be brought to their attention. Funnily enough, it leads to peace of mind!
We all tend to make assumptions, but that can be dangerous. It’s important to get your facts straight first before you come up with a plan of action. It's a good idea if the feedback giver first clarifies their understanding of a situation by asking the employee to clarify their's. That way, you are both starting off at the same place with the same perceptions, and your communication will be much more effective.
There is a difference between critical feedback and constructive feedback. It’s a nuance, but constructive feedback comes from a place of wanting to help, whereas negative feedback is criticizing without offering practical suggestions.
When giving feedback, consider yourself a mentor or a sounding board. Ask the person questions to understand their position. Then, put yourself in their shoes before you give your opinion.
For example, let’s say a team member is slow to respond to your requests and sometimes even forgets completely to deliver what you have asked. Rather than just calling them out on their behavior, try saying,
"John. Can we chat about deliverables for a second? I’m having trouble planning my work because I’m not sure how much of a heads up I should give you before I need the requests that I send you. What would work for you, and what’s the best way for me to send you a request?”
Good feedback focuses on the effect of the behavior rather than the behavior itself. In this case, you have a planning problem that you are trying to fix. Framing things this way avoids directly accusing or blaming the other person for something they may or may not have done.
Avoid using the following terms when giving feedback because you will come across as critical and judgmental.
“If I were you…”
“You should have…”
It’s unfair to unload a litany of complaints on someone. That kind of feedback will leave someone demoralized and overwhelmed. Focus on one thing. Taking one step at a time in a focused area will show gradual results, and that will motivate the person to keep striving. Set people up for success, and plan one attainable goal at a time. As progress is made, confidence grows, and improvements may come quicker.
This is another reason to conduct regular feedback sessions; it reduces the number of issues that need to be addressed at one time.
When giving feedback, don’t give generalizations, but use a real example. For example, don’t say,
“Cathy, I think we could work on your communication skills. Your presentations are a bit too extensive and don’t drive home the point clearly.”
This is a vague statement that does not offer practical advice. Cathy will be left scratching her head about what exactly was unclear and what she could have done differently. In order to gain clarity, she’ll have to pepper you with questions which might make you frustrated. Here’s a better way to handle it.
“Cathy, can we chat about your presentation yesterday? You did a great job in gathering and presenting the data, but I would have understood your point better if you had synthesized your message down to one or two main points at the beginning and then repeated them at the end to drive home your message. Think of delivering just the headline rather than all of the significant data points.”
Although this is pointing out a weakness to Cathy, it also offers helpful and practical advice that she can act on. The delivery of the feedback also starts with some positive feedback. It’s important people know what they are doing well just as much as where they need to improve, and beginning the conversation in this way will make them more open to advice.
The majority of communication is nonverbal. Folded arms could mean that a person is resistant to constructive criticism. Someone who is fiddling with a pen might be nervous. Someone who sits back in their chair with a head cocked might be ready to challenge you. That said, remember that body language is also dependent on culture and personality types. Some people, such as those on the spectrum, might find it difficult to meet the other person’s eyes when communicating.
Consider your own body language and what message it might be sending and what you can do to accommodate the other person. Some things to consider are your tone of voice (be calm and pleasant), your facial expressions (smile), the way you sit (don’t lean too far forward and keep your arms open so that you seem welcoming).
Giving feedback can be nerve wracking because you never know how the other person will respond. The person you’re sharing feedback with may have questions, reactions, or additional comments. They might take offense and argue, or they might withdraw.
Try not to have any expectations, and give the person time to think about what has been said because the corrective feedback process takes time. Offer to meet again and to answer any questions they have.
You could ask an individual first if you can give them some feedback. That way, they can prepare in advance and come to the feedback session with an appropriate frame of mind.
We saved the best to last. How do you give negative feedback to a supervisor without it coming back to haunt you? Short answer; in most cases you can’t, and it’s just not worth the risk.
Well, there are exceptions, of course. If you feel confident that you have a great relationship with your manager and they really want your opinion, go for it. But pick the type of feedback wisely, and know the risks involved if you intend to be critical of specific behavior or a decision they have made.
One way to make your employee feedback useful and less potentially damaging is to diplomatically lay out the issue, but then solve the problem for your boss by giving two or three suggestions. For example, let's say your boss is not seeing that a lack of communication is affecting productivity. You might say to your boss,
“I’ve noticed that there are some delays in projects simply because of the way we communicate. Emails aren’t checked real-time anymore, and it can be a day before one is answered. That adds up to additional hours even days added to a product’s timeline.
I think we can solve the problem though. We could use a collaboration tool and make sure all communications are real-time and through the tool instead of some going through email. Or, we could meet every morning and get ahead of each other’s needs for the day.”
This is not directly pointing out a problem with your supervisor, but it is providing useful feedback and demonstrating your added value.
To learn more about being a new manager, read "11 Ways to Succeed As a First-Time Manager."
Regular feedback is increasingly a component of performance management. Although it may occur more frequently, giving feedback to someone is not easy, and you should plan in advance what your goals are and how you will deliver your message. Bear in mind that employees need to know the expectations in order to meet them. It is your job as the deliverer of feedback to clarify goals on a regular basis and to act as a source of support.
Bottom line. Consider yourself a mentor and a guide. Someone who can learn from others, not someone who knows everything. Give feedback the right way because it is your opportunity to learn too!