Giving feedback can be uncomfortable. Still, it’s a crucial skill to develop as a leader. Very few people have a natural, well-balanced approach to giving feedback. Generally, you either struggle to give feedback meaningfully because you’re a direct, no-nonsense person. Or you struggle to give feedback directly because you’re a highly empathetic person.
Whichever direction you lean, the good news is that you can develop giving feedback. Here are six steps to giving it in an effective and constructive manner:
Find the Right Time
There are good and bad times for giving feedback. Unless you’ve got a quick, positive comment to offer, it’s not a good idea to surprise someone with a feedback conversation. Setting appointments is good. Even better, institute a regular, consistent routine for giving feedback such as weekly, monthly or quarterly check-ins. That way your employees know what to expect, when to expect it and how often it’s going to happen.
Check Your Assumptions
If you find yourself needing to address a particular behaviour, don’t do it in the heat of the moment. If possible, take a break and calm down (if needed). Then think about why the behaviour may have occurred. One of the suggestions in the book Crucial Conversations is to ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person act this way.” The purpose of the question is to remind yourself that the people who work for you are reasonable, rational and decent. It also prompts you to tap into your empathy. Make space for the possibility that there is an unseen factor involved in the situation.
Whatever the feedback is for, whether it’s to address a specific behaviour or just part of your routine check-ins, be sure to be specific. Addressing someone’s general character or your overall impression of them is not helpful. People want clear feedback because they want to do a good job at their job.
Include Positive and Negative
If you tend to be led with empathy, remember that negative feedback is just as important as positive. If people don’t know what areas they can improve, they won’t be able to move forward. On the other hand, if you tend to be more direct and to the point, you may need to remind yourself that it’s also helpful for people to know what they’re doing right. This way, they can continue doing the things you appreciate most.
Create an Action Plan
Feedback without a plan is just criticism. To make it useful, make sure your employee has a good sense of how to improve their performance. Ideally, they’ll feel motivated and inspired after receiving feedback. If that happens, you’ll know you’ve done a good job communicating.
Make Feedback a Two-Way Conversation
Framing feedback as a conversation rather than a top-down coaching or reprimand is best for building trust and a strong manager-employee relationship. If you’re addressing a specific concern, give your employee a chance to explain their side of the story. When you’re doing a regular check-in, invite them to share their own ideas about their experience with and at work. Depending on the situation, it can be a good idea to invite them to give you feedback as well.
Giving feedback doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be painful. Though it may feel somewhat uncomfortable, it should ultimately leave both you and your employee feeling empowered. Following these steps will help you feed back to your employees in a way that’s helpful and productive.
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