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Make the People Around You Better: How to Give Feedback Like a Boss

Make the People Around You Better: How to Give Feedback Like a Boss

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.

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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].”

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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.

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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.

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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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Last Updated on July 15, 2019

10 Signs of a Bad Boss and How to Deal with Them

10 Signs of a Bad Boss and How to Deal with Them

This is an article I didn’t want to write. Even if it appears that way on the surface, few things are black and white. Between the two colors is a world of gray. Notwithstanding the bosses who behave criminally, some of the people who carry the “bad boss” label have possibly been, or have the capacity to become, a “good boss.”

This is an article I didn’t want to write because I understand that depending on whom you ask, many of us could be labeled either a good or bad boss.

Perhaps another reason I didn’t want to write this article is because context matters. Context for the organization and context for the individual. What is happening in the organization? What is the culture? Is the “boss” in a position for which the individual is equipped to do the job? Is the person in a terrible place in life? The office culture, the relationship a team member has with a boss or board and the leader’s personal life can all influence how the person shows up and leads and how others perceive the individual.

But since I am writing this article, I will share a few signs that bosses are bad and in need of a timeout.

1. Bad Bosses Don’t Know and Haven’t Healed Their Inner Child

If you plan to lead people – well, if you plan to effectively lead yourself – you must get reacquainted with your inner child. Just because you are in young adulthood, middle age or the golden years doesn’t mean your inner child matches your chronological age. If you experienced trauma as a child, your inner child may be stuck at the point or age of that trauma. While you walk around in a woman’s size 10 shoe, your behavior may showcase an inner child who is much younger.

In a June 7, 2008, Psychology Today article, Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., observed,[1]

“The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. We all get older … But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one’s own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. We are told by society to ‘grow up,’ putting childish things aside. To become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child—representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness—must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers.”

Sometimes the key that your inner child needs tending to is conflict with someone else’s inner child.

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Good bosses are aware of the ups and downs of their childhood, have worked or are working to heal their inner child and are aware of their triggers. Good managers use this awareness to manage themselves, and their interactions with others. Bad bosses are oblivious to how their inner child impacts not only their life but the lives of others.

2. Bad Bosses Are Unable to Accept Feedback

Bad bosses are not intentional about creating an environment where their peers and colleagues can share feedback about their leadership. They don’t solicit feedback. Given the power dynamic that managers, CEOs and others in leadership yield, they must go out of their way to solicit feedback, and they must do so repeatedly.

Before being completely honest, most team members will test the waters and share low-stakes information to get a sense for how their boss will respond. If the boss is angry or retaliatory, team members are less likely to risk being candid in the future.

So being unable to accept feedback takes on two forms: failing to proactively and repeatedly ask for feedback and reacting poorly when feedback is shared.

3. Bad Bosses Are Unwilling to Give Timely Feedback

The flip side of accepting feedback is giving feedback. Both require courage. It takes courage to open yourself up and accept feedback on ways that you need to grow. Similarly, it takes courage to share honest feedback about a team member’s or colleague’s performance or behavior.

Since not everyone is open to accepting feedback, whether they’re a manager or not, having an honest conversation about areas a team member or colleague has missed the mark, is not always easy. Still, good bosses will find a way to share feedback, and they’ll do so in a timely fashion.

Withholding feedback and sharing it months after a situation has unfolded or in a snowball fashion is unhelpful to the employees. One of the ways we grow as leaders is through feedback. When people have the courage to tell us the truth, that information allows us to progress.

4. Bad Bosses Are Unable to Acknowledge Their Mistakes

Owning their mistakes is like a disease to bad bosses; they do not want it. Instead of being risk averse, they are accountability averse. The problem is that they can only gloss over their weaknesses or failures for so long; the people around are able to see their flaws and weaknesses, and bad bosses pretending they don’t exist is not helpful. It is infuriating.

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However, bad bosses are masterful at reassigning blame. They are unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes — small or large. But career expert Amanda Augustine told CNBC “Make It” in May 2017, that “good managers also admit their mistakes.”[2] They don’t pass the blame or pretend they didn’t make a mistake. They own it.

5. Bad Bosses Are Unwilling or Incapable of Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability is an underrated leadership skill. But well-placed and well-thought out vulnerability enables employees to see their leaders’ humanity, and it creates a way for leaders to bond with their teams.

Bad bosses may talk about vulnerability, but they don’t practice it in their own lives, particularly in the workplace.

6. Privately, Bad Bosses Do Not Live Up to the Organization’s Stated Values

Bad bosses may publicly spout the values of the organization they work for, but privately they either don’t believe or don’t embody those values.

If they work for an environmental group, they may not practice sustainability in their private lives. Their words and actions are incongruent.

7. Bad Bosses Are Unable to Inspire Others

When bad bosses are unable or unwilling to take the time to inspire others, they lead through fear or command. Neither are helpful.

A culture dominated by fear will stifle creativity and risk taking that can lead to innovation. An autocratic management style will have a similar effect in that team, members will not feel they have the space to step outside of the box they have been placed in.

A good boss is someone who takes time to share the big picture and time to inspire their teams to want to be a part of it.

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8. Bad Bosses Are Disinterested in How Their Behavior Impacts Others

They are narcissistic and focused on self-preservation. In “19 Traits of a Bad Boss,” Kevin Sheridan said,[3]

“Terrible bosses are endlessly self-centered. Everything is about them and not the people they manage or what is going on in their employees’ personal lives. It is never about the team, but rather all about how good they look. Conversely, great bosses lead with integrity, honesty, care, and authenticity.”

Rather than seeing their team’s talents and seeing people’s full humanity, bad bosses believe their team exists to serve them. Families, personal life and priorities be damned. Bona fide bad bosses believe that their comfort should be prioritized over their team’s needs and desires.

9. Bad Bosses Have Likely Received Negative Feedback

Bad bosses have likely been told that they are poor supervisors. They have likely been told time and time again that their behavior is harmful to the people around them.

Perhaps they do not know how to change or are unwilling to change. But bad bosses certainly have received clues, insights and direct feedback that their management style and behavior are harmful to others.

Even when someone hasn’t explicitly said, “Your behavior is harmful to me and others,” the absence of feedback indicates a problem. It can mean that the leader’s team doesn’t feel safe enough to share feedback, that people do not believe the leader will act on what is shared, or that people have determine the best strategy is to avoid the boss as much as possible.

10. Bad Bosses Are Perfectionists

Bad bosses are driven by an internal urge to be perfect. Perfectionists don’t just want to be perfect; they want everyone around them to be perfect as well. This is a standard that neither they nor their team can live up to.

Since perfection is illusive, they spend their time chasing their shadow and being frustrated that they cannot catch it. They are unable to enjoy the journey and often block others from doing so as well. They let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” Rather than embracing a growth mindset that desires to learn and improved, they are compulsive and toxic.

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If you are like me and you see yourself in parts of this list, do not despair. A bad boss can change. The key is seeking honest feedback and being willing to work through that feedback and your triggers with a therapist or coach.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of your age and the mistakes you have made, you can change and become a healthier leader whom others respect and appreciate.

Conversely, if you are employed by a bad boss, do everything in your power to take care of yourself. Understand that your boss’s behavior, even if directed at you, is not about you. Your boss’s reactions, if and when you make a mistake, is a reflection on that individual, not you.

To survive the work environment, think about the lesson you are meant to learn. You can do this with a trusted therapist or capable coach. However, if you deem the work environment to be toxic and harmful to your health, seek employment elsewhere.

In the end, this is an article I did not want to write, but I’m happy I did.

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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