Giving feedback is not about pointing out weaknesses or faulting an employee for a problem in a vague way. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Thoughtful, clear, and constructive feedback is an act of kindness. In this post, we’ll explore why and share 3 steps you can use to master these difficult but essential conversations.
Overcoming Discomfort for the Greater Good
It can be uncomfortable to deliver constructive feedback, especially for a new manager. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or damage a relationship. But this fear can hold you back from helping someone grow.
Consider it from the recipient’s perspective.
If your boss or mentor thought you could improve something at work, or if they had insights on a better approach for a challenge you faced, would you want to know that?
So why hold back that kind of feedback from the people you lead?
You can deliver thoughtful feedback in a way that invites someone to grow. These honest exchanges build trust and encourage open communication. The whole team benefits from stronger relationships, improved skills and competencies, and a culture of continuous learning and progress.
How Do You Ensure Your Feedback Is Constructive ?
Here are three practical tips for making a difficult conversation productive and thoughtful from Kim Latko, one of the expert facilitators for our Manager Development Program. Kim’s experience as an entrepreneur, owner, COO, and coach make her an invaluable trainer for managers who want to lead with intelligence and empathy.
1. Make It Timely
First, have the conversation as soon as possible when an issue comes up. It’s really powerful if those events are fresh on everyone’s mind for a few reasons:
- Your employee better understands the context and specifics of the behavior or action being addressed.
- Your team sees that you’re attentive and invested in their progress.
- You minimize uncertainty (especially for people who know about the problem and feel anxious waiting for the fall out.)
- You prevent the issue from escalating into a bigger problem and minimize its impact.
2. Keep It Objective
Second, stick to the facts. Be careful not to mix in opinion. That’s the subjective territory where people feel defensive.
You’ll want to avoid generalizations and focus on specific observations and their consequences.
Make a bulleted list of exactly what you want to talk about and what the facts are related to the issue. You can share this with the employee as a reference for the conversation. I prepare this ahead of time so I’m not fumbling through papers and making the employee nervous.
3. Create a Dialogue
Finally, let the employee be part of the solution. When they come up how to fix the issue, they’re definitely more likely to commit and follow through on the plan. The employe also has some say in what’s happening.
Go into the conversation with an idea of what change or outcome is needed. You want to have a clear sense of what good looks like. Ask yourself: “Where do we need to go?”
And then ask your employee to help answer the second question: “How are we going to get there?”
It can be a collaboration, but you want to get as much involvement as possible on the employee end.
The 3 Steps In Action
We recently worked with a manager who put these steps into practice and had a successful outcome. Here’s how she did it.
The manager had a direct report who was doing really well. All of a sudden, he became chronically late. Chronically late and also chronically absent.
The department had time-sensitive responsibilities. They moved fast and had to deliver on time every day. You can imagine how a team member arriving late most days – and sometimes not at all – created horrible issues in the department.
As soon as she realized it was a chronic issue, she pulled in the employee. This wasn’t something the department could absorb, and she acted promptly.
Next she put together the information and presented to the employee. “Here’s what your attendance looked like before and here’s the last three weeks. There’s a big difference here.”
She’s just dealing with the facts.
Then, she said: “Tell me a little bit about what’s going on.”
The employee shared that unfortunately his wife had left. They had young kids and now he was doing everything. He was taking care of the kids, doing many things he’d never done before, and he just didn’t know how to do it.
The manager wanted to help, but also had a busy department to run.
She asked a perfect question and made the employee part of the solution: “Knowing everything we have to get done in our department each day, how can we work this out? What do you need?”
In this employee’s case, the solution was simple. He just needed his time changed by 30 minutes so he could get the kids on the bus.
They agreed in writing. They adjusted his schedule. And they fixed the chronic lateness and retained a long-term employee, who was grateful for the support.
An Essential Skill
Delivering constructive feedback is not an easy task, but it is an essential skill for leaders to master.
You can use these steps next time an issue arises to ensure you’re providing valuable feedback.
- Speak to the employee as soon as possible.
- Prepare the facts in advance and present them objectively.
- Ask the employee to help find the solution.
And don’t forget to share meaningful positive feedback regularly. Recognize effort and persistence. Celebrate wins, big and small.
The more you practice giving constructive feedback, the more effective you become as a communicator and leader. By your example, team members will know why and how to share constructive feedback with each other.
You’ll know you’re successfully building a feedback-rich culture when your employees feel safe enough to give you valuable constructive feedback, too.