Calling all managers: here’s how to give constructive feedback

Aug 12, 2019

4 mins

Calling all managers: here’s how to give constructive feedback

As a manager, you probably know that you need to have regular exchanges with your team to create an atmosphere of trust. These conversations also give you the opportunity to encourage your employees to do their best and to make them feel appreciated. But that’s easier said than done. So when you have to get a message across to an employee—whether it’s pleasant or one that’s tough to hear—what approach should you take? How can you put it into words? Here, Welcome to the Jungle shares seven tips for a constructive feedback session.

1. Be prepared

Feedback can be positive or corrective, but preparation is always required to enable you to convey the right information and achieve your goal, which may be encouraging—or changing—a certain behavior. The idea is not to let the meeting turn into a settling of scores, but to leave the other person feeling recharged, with a real action plan.

To prepare your feedback, observe your team and take notes on any behavior that deserves praise or needs improvement. You will have to refer to specific examples that illustrate your point. During your preparation, think about judging the situation and not the person.

Build your case by factually explaining the scenario. Next, give your impression of it, convey your needs, and finally state your future expectations so you can come up with ways to achieve them together. Make sure you practise using “I” and the first person because this shows that you are taking a stance.

2. Give them a time-slot

Try to have a one-to-one with each employee. Regardless of your feedback—positive or corrective—the person in question shouldn’t be embarrassed in front of anyone else. Choose an isolated room, if possible out of sight, but still within the company building to stick to a formal setting.
To give the event a sense of importance that encourages honest, constructive dialogue, schedule regular meetings in this way:

  • Weekly: Go through and discuss current projects and how they are shaping up.
  • Quarterly: Give employees more detailed feedback on their work and also discuss their feelings and development.
  • Annual: Talk about pay rises and future prospects.

By planning and structuring meetings in advance, it shows your employees that you are taking time out specifically for a one-to-one that is completely dedicated to them. However, don’t schedule quarterly meetings and annual appraisals before another important meeting. These can go on longer than planned—it is not uncommon to get stuck into an issue once the employee starts to feel more at ease.

3. Start with the positive

Begin by discussing what is making you happy about their work. It is crucial to always start on a positive note to get their attention and follow this with any negative points. For example, you can talk about how much you value their involvement in projects, their effort, their attitude, or quite simply some of their work.

Bear in mind that the reason you are having this meeting is not just to show your authority but to give feedback that is understood and accepted.

4. Be direct yet considerate

Begin the discussion as if you were a doctor starting a consultation with a patient: ask them how they feel about the given situation on a scale of one to 10. Next, remind them of its context—an employee should not feel like you are trying to worm out of the discussion because you are uncomfortable with the subject matter. Be direct and transparent, without being hurtful. Get your point across with specific examples and give them key points for improvement without giving them all the answers. The idea is that they can react to feedback and find solutions on their own, so they get the impression that they have a say in what happens further down the line and feel involved. A feedback session is supposed to leave both parties feeling satisfied.

5. Don’t put it off

If you or your staff member gets upset, postpone the exchange for a few hours to make it more constructive. However, if you can’t do this and you have to end the discussion, avoid waiting too long before returning to it as there will never be a perfect moment. If an improvement in behavior is needed, don’t let the situation deteriorate or your employee will think that he or she is on the right track and will fall flat on their face at the annual appraisal.

6. Adapt to your audience

Some of your team members require more praise than others. Single them out and give them positive feedback on a more regular basis.

The remainder may be long-standing team members who have mastered their craft perfectly. If you highlight the positive, and only the positive, you might lead them to believe that you still see them as a newbie—challenging them could make them feel valued. It is up to you to assess an individual’s profile and find the right balance.

7. Show empathy and availability

You have already given your employee some of your time, but don’t just stop there; remain approachable and sympathetic. Some staff members will go over everything again in their head and may come up with more questions, doubts, or suggestions. Sometimes receiving feedback is seen as a real ordeal that requires time for self-reflection, even when the discussion goes well. If you think it had a real impact on their morale, perhaps ask them if they would like to take the rest of the day off or give them the opportunity to work remotely.

A lot of managers don’t provide positive feedback for fear that the team will become complacent; others don’t give corrective feedback because they are afraid of conflict. However, this is essential, even if it is not always easy. If your team doesn’t have the full picture they can’t adopt the right behavior and develop in their role. Feedback shows that you respect your employees, you are trying to create a genuine bond and you want them to flourish. It’s a hard balance: there’s certainly plenty to think about when it comes to constructive feedback sessions.

Translated by Mildred Dauvin

Photo: WTTJ

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