Giving difficult feedback

Nobody enjoys receiving negative feedback and providing colleagues with negative feedback on performance issues can be a difficult and stressful experience. Avoiding giving feedback isn’t the answer, though.

Constructive feedback is vital for ensuring that your team performs well. There are some methods we can use to ensure that the feedback is communicated effectively.

Here are 3 quick tips for giving constructive feedback:

Be specific

Don’t talk in generalisations (“you always…”). Use specific concrete examples instead (“during the meeting you said…”)

Focus on your perspective

Use “I” rather than “you.” This approach maintains focus on your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings in the situation and avoids the individual from feeling like you are getting personal.

Offer solutions

If related to an issue you are facing, rather than a behaviour, offer a solution. How could you help? Is there a way you could remove or reduce the problem?

What shouldn’t I do?

During the feedback, try not to:

• Hide your negative feedback in a ‘feedback sandwich’. Your key point is likely to get lost.

• Speculate on why they behaved the way they did

• Choose the wrong time to provide the feedback; for example, in front of other people or during a crisis

Feedback to direct reports

When delivering negative feedback to direct reports it is important to deliver it in a way that minimises frustration and maximises your chances of helping your employee to develop their skills.

It is perfectly acceptable to express your concern about poor performance, together with your reasons e.g. “I’m concerned that when you send reports out to clients that have errors, it makes us look unprofessional.” Shying away from giving feedback doesn’t help anyone.

Steer clear of negative statements about the person such as ‘you’re just not organised’. Instead, focus on being specific and helpful. Try: ‘I’m really glad that you completed that report on time. However, I noticed a few errors. Let’s discuss how you plan your work before you produce the reports’.

Remember to show the employee that you value them. Empower them by encouraging them to suggest how they can improve. Employees are more motivated to follow their own suggestions for improving performance. If you can live with their suggestion, give it a chance.

Listen to their point of view and agree on a set of future behaviours which will measure improvements. For example, “I think your plan to have another team member proof your reports before they are sent is a good one. Let’s meet to review how this is working.”

Feedback to Peers

Many of us struggle to give feedback about colleagues and understandably so. We worry that we will cause offence resulting in tension in the workplace.

However, in a survey by Reflektive, 72% of surveyed employees believed their performance would be improved if they were provided with corrective feedback by their peers.

When delivering feedback to peers, you should remember to:

Be positive – you are intending to help. Give feedback with positive intensions. Your feedback should help your peer to make progress.

Be consistent – Make it part of your weekly routine or agree to give constructive feedback right away when it is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Making a conscious effort to give feedback on a regular basis will also make doing so less daunting.

Be specific and give actions or suggestions that they can try. Skip the feedback sandwich and jump right into the constructive criticism. One way to incorporate positive comments into criticism is to highlight how a peer’s existing strengths can help to solve a problem.

Focus on the problem not the person – deliver the feedback in a way that doesn’t feel like a personal attack. Focus on their work, not their personality.

Encourage colleagues to give constructive feedback to you too.

Feedback to manager

Giving feedback to a manager can be a bit of a minefield; one wrong step and any future advancement could be restricted. Come across as weak and you might not be considered as management material. Upward feedback can be daunting, but a considered approach can help you to prepare.

Step 1 – Question yourself – are you being too sensitive? Was the incident a one-off or has there been a pattern of behaviour? Also ask yourself how important it is to you to bring it up. Is a minor one-off incident worth the risk of affecting your relationship with your manager?

Step 2 – Prepare – Block time in their diary to talk. Figure out how you will start the conversation and set the tone for the meeting. Be specific. What happened, when and how did it affect you? Practise what you are going to say with a trusted colleague or friend, and ask them how it came across.

Step 3 – Do it! – Now you have planned and practised, and picked the right time, you’re ready. Say your piece calmly and then pause, allowing them time to consider and then respond.

Step 4 – End with a thank you – Your manager has taken the time to listen to you and hear your concerns. Let them know you’re thankful for their support.