THE CHALLENGE OF GIVING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK
Giving constructive feedback is a foundational skill for all leaders, yet it's a skill we sometimes avoid in an effort to spare our own discomfort. That's because negative feedback is rarely fun to give, especially in a professional setting. I remember this skill being especially painful as a new leader.
Looking back on the early times I had to give constructive feedback, a queasy sensation brews in my stomach as I remember how unskilled I was. I remember clumsily searching for words and over sympathizing, signaling how uncomfortable it was for me to tell them they needed to improve. I didn't even realize how cringeworthy it was until I received feedback from my boss about how I gave feedback. One day I was told:
"You need to stop apologizing when you’re giving someone feedback. It completely discredits you."
I was completely fumbling feedback as a leader. My anxiety about hurting someone's feelings or lowering the morale - or whatever else I may have justified at the time - was getting in my way of being an effective boss. Thankfully, I received this feedback early on and we get to learn from our mistakes as we grow as leaders. Over time, feedback became one of the most important skills to me as a leader, and I learned a few tips for how to do it with dignity and effectiveness along the way.
LEADERS CARE ABOUT THE GROWTH OF THEIR TEAM MEMBERS
Although it may be difficult to say negative things about your team member’s work, it’s worth remembering that your team can only thrive if you give them direction. It helps if you can view negative feedback as a method of giving your team the tools they need to improve and get better at their jobs.
According to a recent study, 83% of employees say they appreciate both positive and negative feedback. So, how do you give criticism in a way that’s positive and beneficial?
1. Be Direct
Your team member is more likely to listen to your comments if you’re clear about what you want them to learn. Avoid the “feedback sandwich” which is common in many business environments, where you surround criticism with compliments. Although it’s nice to give some positive feedback to soften the blow, you want them to walk away with a clear vision of what they’ve done wrong and what they need to work on. Be specific about exactly what the issue is and what you want to change. You can ask them if they have any questions to help ensure their understanding.
Try this: “I know you’ve been volunteering to help with lots of projects, and we appreciate the effort. I've noticed the quality of your work is starting to slip as you take on more. Let's find a way to use your talents for the most quality impact.” A conversation about expectations and priorities can then take place collaboratively.
2. Encourage Self-Reflection
Your feedback will likely be more effective if it doesn’t feel like an attack. Encouraging self-reflection is a strategy that pushes people to think more carefully about their behavior. In some cases, the person might even be aware of the issue and give you some ideas on how they can improve. People will generally be more invested in their growth if they feel like they have input, so it’s important to listen to their ideas before you speak.
Try this: “I know you’ve missed your sales targets this quarter, and that just isn’t like you. Do you have any ideas on what went wrong?”
3. Don’t Make it Personal
It’s important to avoid any personal statements when you’re giving criticism, because this is more likely to make people feel defensive. As tempting as it may be to say that you’re disappointed in a team member’s work, or that you were unhappy with something they did, try to focus on the job instead of yourself. The focus should always be on the wider company, the way that things are affecting the business, and the employee, rather than you. Avoid making it sound like the issue is specifically with the person, rather than their work.
For instance, instead of saying: “You are micromanaging, and it’s affecting the whole team’s morale.”
Try removing the personal nature by saying: “Some of your team members have mentioned that they’d like more independence on their projects. Would you be comfortable with that?”
4. Help Them Understand Why
Just because you can see how serious a problem is doesn’t mean your team members can. That’s why it’s so important to explain the implications of the issue and why your staff needs to make a change. For instance, if you have a team member that’s constantly sending emails with typos to clients, you could tell them that this isn’t good for the company image, but they may not realize how serious the issue is. Instead, try focusing on evidence of how it could make a difference to the company. It helps for people to see how their actions are affecting the business as a whole and even the other people on their team.
For example: “Our clients have been bringing our attention to the typos in your messages, and we’re concerned these communications aren't sending the right message about the company.
5. Help Them Improve
Finally, giving negative feedback is only a good idea when you can also provide your team members with ways to improve and grow. The last thing you should do is simply tell someone that you’re unhappy with their work and leave it at that. People should always be given the chance to evolve and grow with additional guidance.
For instance, instead of saying: “I'm disappointed with the number of calls you took yesterday.” (This lets them know that they’re in trouble, but not much else.)
Try this: “Your daily call goal wasn't reached yesterday. Do you think there’s a way you could improve?” This helps you set the foundation for improvement while also inviting the person to find solutions. If a person can’t offer a suggestion themselves, ensure that you have ideas on how they can make a positive change.
There are times, for reasons outside of your control, a team member may remain unwilling to change a problematic dynamic. If this is the case, I wrote about a strategy to manage a difficult employee!
Keep these strategies in mind the next time you need to deliver some constructive feedback. Putting it into a positive light, while still getting your point across, will help keep your team motivated to do their best.