Learning how to give feedback is one of the hardest parts of being a leader—after all, you want a team that is producing the best work possible, and the only way to do that is to coach people on how to improve (since no one walks in the door already perfect).

Lots of leaders struggle for years before they figure our how to give feedback effectively.

So where do you start? Well, you could try the hint approach, where you give your feedback in the form of a question, like “have you thought about rearranging the format of your presentation?” This approach is non-confrontational, but you may not see the results you want since it depends on the other person being able to read your mind to figure out what needs to be improved—which few people can do.

Alternatively, if you use the blunt approach, where you make your disapproval clear and tell people exactly what’s wrong, you may get results at the cost of personal relationships and trust.

Both of these approaches have their problems. So, the question is: how can you give feedback and get results without just bossing people around?

We’ve come up with a list of tips to help you find a happy medium.

1. Ask the recipient what they thought.

A great way to start the conversation and reflection process is to ask your employee a question that opens them up for introspection on their performance. Ask what they thought of the project, what they think they could improve on, and what they think went well. Do they feel the project was a success? What what their favorite part? Where did they struggle during preparation?

No matter what they say, this is a great way to open the discussion since it allows you to see things from their perspective.

Even if what they thought is completely different from your own opinion, this tells you exactly where to start from and what is most important to address. For example, “I think you did an awesome job answering the audience’s questions, but I agree, you could have addressed some of those points in the presentation itself.”

Continue using questions throughout the discussion, both to empower the employee (to coach them to come up with their own solutions to the problems and show them you trust them to do so) and to make sure you’re not using a heavy hand in the feedback. The best growth comes when the person feels they aren’t just being ordered to change, but they can see how and why they should make improvements.

2. Sandwich the feedback between two compliments.

With this approach, start by praising something that the person has been doing well, give your honest and direct feedback, and then close with another compliment.

For example, “Your recent work on the project is commendable—you’re putting in a lot of time and I appreciate that [compliment]. However, I think you need to spend more time addressing the complaints about the recent launch [criticism], though the complaints that you have already addressed have been handled professionally [compliment].”

This way, the listener is more receptive to what you have to say and knows that you aren’t just seeing the negative aspects of their work. Note that this isn’t sugarcoating the feedback—you should still call it like you see it. However, this puts you and the feedback recipient on the same side. You’re both just trying to produce the best work possible.

3. Be timely.

The longer you wait to deliver feedback, the less helpful the feedback will be. If you see something that you want changed, let the person know immediately, so that they can make those changes. No one wants to find out what they could have done better when the only option left is their firing.

Plus, it is embarrassing to learn that something you’re doing has been a problem for a while, but you’re the last person to find out. Even though giving feedback can feel scary or uncomfortable to do as a manager, it is your job to step up and help people be better sooner rather than later. Show people that they can trust you by being transparent and open to helping them on their schedule.

4. Make the feedback about the project, not the person.

No one wants to be personally attacked, so make the feedback about the task, not the person. For example, say, “adding more detail to this slide will emphasize your point,” rather than, “the way you worded this slide is too confusing.”

We can’t travel back in time and prevent the mistakes we’ve made, so making people feel bad about their errors isn’t productive. However, looking back and troubleshooting problems is helpful—which is why focusing on actions and how they can be improved in the future is much more useful.

Of course, make sure you are still direct when delivering the message; beating around the bush doesn’t help you get what you want, and your employee is more likely to misunderstand the feedback. The point here is simply to not make it personal and instead focus on actions the person can take in the future.

5. Suggest actionable steps.

Part of giving feedback is giving the person methods of improvement (since nobody comes to work to do a bad job on purpose).

Rather than just saying “do this better,” show the person how they can do something better. Not only does this make you a problem-solving boss, rather than a complaining boss, but the person will be much more likely to make the changes if they have ideas of *how* to change and what success looks like to you.

When people see you as someone who helps them get better, they’re less likely to make mistakes in the future too because they will be more willing to come to you for more constructive feedback along the way.

6. Focus on future, not the past.

Don’t focus too heavily on the negative—feedback is about helping the other person improve, not making them wallow in their mistakes.

7. Avoid “need to” phrases.

Telling an employee that they “need to” get reports in on time or “need to” change the presentation format will put them on the defensive and possibly make them resentful.

Instead, provide context. When a person understands why something needs to be a certain way, they’re a lot more likely to do it successfully than if they’re just given a straight directive with no reasoning. If someone always turns in their reports late, try explaining what that delay means for the rest of the team or why the report needs to be done at all. People are more likely to help you when they know why it matters.

8. Give a personal example.

When appropriate, this is a great way to put the feedback recipient at ease. Providing a personal example of when you’ve encountered a similar issue will show that they aren’t the only person to make this mistake. It puts you back on a more even playing field. Something as simple as “I learned this the hard way” will often do the trick.

9. Provide the reasoning.

People like to understand the rationale behind suggestions, since if it makes sense to them, they are much more likely to make the change. Providing your analysis, rather than just your opinion, dramatically increases the likelihood that you will see a change.

10. A great way to condition your team to be receptive of feedback is to make regular, low-key feedback common.

The more consistent the feedback and open the communication, the more open your team will be to the feedback once they see how the changes help. If individuals aren’t used to hearing feedback, it can be difficult to process the suggestions beyond the initial belief that they’ve done something terribly wrong. Encourage honesty and constant communication in the workplace.

11. One more thing—follow up with your employee about the feedback.

Doing this shows that you were serious about making changes. If the employee has already implemented the changes, let them know that you recognize and value their receptiveness. Everyone wants bonus points with the boss, and positive reinforcement will encourage receptiveness in the future.

 

Next time you spot a problem and want to provide feedback, try out a few of these tips. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments!

Featured photo credit: Danbo conoce a Domo – Danbo meets Domo / Guillermo Viciano via flickr.com

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