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How to Give Effective Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Effective Feedback in the Workplace

by Geoff Balmer

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Whilst praising an employee for a job well done can be simple, providing important, constructive feedback can be far more stressful. As a Manager, it’s critical that you are comfortable with delivering constructive, and sometimes hard-to-hear yet effective feedback in the workplace. Clearly, your team members can only improve once they know where they are falling short.

Of course, that can be easier said than done as it isn’t always clear what makes effective feedback. Use the wrong tone of voice or choice of words and you can make people immediately go on the defensive and lose your chance at having a meaningful conversation. To avoid just that, and to help you become more confident, here are several tips on how to effectively deliver different types of feedback.

Ensure Your Team Understands the Importance of Feedback

It’s incredibly difficult to deliver meaningful feedback unless you are respected by your team. For employees to understand why all feedback, both positive and negative is important to their performance and development, make it a regular topic at team meetings.  The team need to understand that constructive criticism isn’t a ‘personal assault’, it is a communication process to ensure that all staff have the support and tools they need to do their job. In your one-on-one discussions with your staff, identify how they best like to be informed about areas for improvement to ensure you tailor this to the individual. Remind them that you are there to assist them in reaching their potential so place the emphasis on development versus performance. You could also set an example by taking onboard any feedback they may have for you on how to become a better leader or manager.

Focus on the Facts You’ve Observed

When you notice potential cases where constructive feedback may be required, take a moment to note down what you’ve observed and how it constitutes a development opportunity or poor performance. Be objective, not subjective. The key to effectively delivering constructive feedback is to keep the conversation accurate by sticking to the facts – not your perception. If someone thinks they’re being attacked personally when you deliver your feedback, the opportunity for a meaningful discussion can quickly be lost. Also, whenever you notice potential issues, make sure you address them as soon as possible; don’t save things up and wait to deliver it all in one fell swoop. Apart from it feeling like an ‘attack’, the moment has passed and has possibly been forgotten.

Deliver Effective Feedback in a Private Setting

Depending on the situation, highlighting an individual employee’s mistake or poor performance in an open plan office or within earshot of their team can be very embarrassing for the recipient and for the team. With that said, saying “can I see you for a minute in my office”, can also be counter-productive. As a manager, consider how you want your management of this issue to be perceived by the rest of the team. Ensure that the discussion format ‘fits the crime’ as it can easily put the recipient on the defensive. If the situation has arisen because of an individual, but could easily relate to the team as a whole, perhaps the feedback could be delivered in a team meeting instead. When tailoring the delivery of performance-related, constructive feedback to the individual, you open yourself up to many types of reactions, so you need to be prepared. If you feel comfortable, asking your employee for a quick coffee break to discuss your feedback in private can be a great alternative.

Be Clear and Specific but also Empathetic

Another important aspect of successfully delivering effective constructive feedback is the execution. To ensure your points are wholly understood and not misconstrued, it’s crucial to explain clearly what you have observed, focusing on the impact the action or behaviour has had on the employee, the team and the business overall. To ensure that both of you are on the same page, be sure to ask if they have understood what you have said and be patient if you need to explain in further detail to clarify, as misinterpreted information can quickly dismantle employee morale and engagement.

At the same time, remember that the person you’re talking to is exactly that: a person. Constructive feedback can often be hard-to-hear, but being empathetic in your delivery can help to ensure it doesn’t become a demoralising conversation. For example, close your feedback with a positive statement to let your employee know that you, the team and the business all appreciate the hard work they do. Feedback is about helping them add more value, not punishing them.

Give Your Employee a Chance to Talk

The feeling that you are not being given a fair chance to talk or get your point across can be incredibly frustrating, and the same applies for when you’re discussing performance issues. While you want to give them your point of view, it’s important to allow people the chance to vent and respond to your feedback and ask their own questions if needed. As mentioned earlier, everyone reacts differently to these conversations, so irrespective of their response or reaction, be open-minded and attempt to understand their position whilst sticking to the facts and remaining professional.

The employee’s response to your feedback can also help shed further light on the situation, personal or professional. Ask yourself whether their response is normal or out of character? If they’re not acting like their usual self, then there might be something else going on in their life that is affecting their performance.

Agree on an Action Plan

To convert feedback into an effective and meaningful conversation, work collaboratively to develop a plan that addresses all the points raised. By agreeing together the tasks, milestones and timeframes, you both know who is accountable and responsible for what and by when.

During the initial discussion and plan creation, it’s important to set a time to reconvene and review the actions your employee has taken and how they have improved. Don’t forget to praise them for their improvements when you observe them. The benefit of periodically reviewing and highlighting achievements is that it can help keep your team on track and keep them engaged throughout their development.

Summary

When it comes to developing people, being able to confidently provide effective and meaningful feedback is critical. Like many other people management skills, this is something that can be developed over time. If, however, you are ever in doubt about the course of action, it is highly recommended that you speak with your HR department or an external HR practitioner, especially if the issue relates to serious misconduct.

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