As a manager, you’re probably aware that feedback carries weight, it gets things done, and it’s an essential aspect of open communication. If you don’t provide feedback, your employees don’t grow and your company stands still. So you know you need to do it. But you may also view feedback delivery as an awkward and tedious chore, something that your employees enjoy hearing about as much as you enjoy sharing…which is not at all. So how can you find a balance between these two poles? What can you do to make sure your feedback process is helpful, not destructive? And even better, what can you do to make the process as quick, natural, painless, and effective as possible? Here are a few simple tips.
Trust is essential.
If your feedback comes off as criticism (which it probably does; most employees naturally equate negative feedback with criticism), don’t respond by skipping it altogether. (This is also a natural human reaction to painful encounters and conversations; most of us avoid them.) Instead, keep searching for new ways to reframe your statements, and measure what you say against the level of trust your employee places in you. If your employee doesn’t trust you, don’t lay on the negativity. Nothing good can come of this. On the other hand, if your employee knows that you have their best interests at heart, say what you need to say fearlessly. If all or most of your direct reports fall into the first category, work on trust first. Worry about feedback later.
Talk about effort instead of ability.
Don’t use language that suggests your employee is “good at” some things and “not good at” other things. Every strength can vary from day to day and year to year, and what looks like exceptional or weak talent one year can fade or grow over time. Skills and talents are like muscles: If we exercise them they get stronger. So don’t frame your feedback in terms of inherent ability; instead, concentrate on where your employee is placing their efforts. Encourage them to shift effort away from some areas and increase it in others.
Empathy can save your relationships, and possibly save your company.
Before you deliver negative feedback, ask yourself one critical question: If you were in your employee’s shoes, how would you respond to the words you’re about to say? If these words would feel motivating and inspiring to you, they’ll probably feel the same to your employee. But if you’re delivering these words to make your employee feel small, to make yourself feel important, to scold, to punish, to manipulate, or to check off a box on your to-do list, pause. What outcome do you hope to achieve with these words? Keep your eyes focused on that outcome as you move forward.