Giving consistent and constructive feedback is essential to a productive and engaged workforce.
But in many offices, these conversations aren’t happening enough, if at all.
Managers are often uncomfortable with the process so they skip it, which can leave employees feeling detached and unappreciated.
“The best way to disengage employees is to give no feedback,” said Rebecca Aced-Molina, a leadership coach. “Negative feedback is better than no feedback. Employees would rather engage with negative feedback than be ignored.”
Why you need to give feedback — often
It sounds counterintuitive, but feedback — especially when it’s negative — can help build trust in the workplace.
“Sure, it’s hard to hear, but it creates a sense of honesty, clarity and knowing where you stand,” said Aced-Molina. “As long as it’s not an attack.”
And when it’s only positive feedback flowing, employees are left to make assumptions, she added.
“They often say to themselves, ‘well, there must be something I can do to improve!’” she said. “Which leads to questions, assumptions (sometimes negative self talk) and lack of respect for our supervisor.” Employees could start wondering if the boss thinks they cant handle the feedback.
Being able to have a constructive conversation about work performance can also lead to a more productive team because it helps identify and solve problems more quickly and it stops negative feelings from festering.
And feedback shouldn’t just be held for annual reviews. The more often you do it, the better everyone becomes at it. Managers get better at delivering the feedback, and employees become more receptive and less hesitant about the conversations.
How to give feedback effectively
Sheila Heen, the co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback” and founder of Triad Consulting Group, explains there are three types of feedback: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.
Appreciation is acknowledging an employee’s hard work and effort, while coaching is providing guidance to help workers learn and grow in their role. Evaluation feedback lets people know where they stand against goals and expectations.
Feedback should be thoughtful and relevant in order to be effective, so take the time to outline what you are going to say.
Determine the objective of the conversation and gather any facts and data to help bolster your point, recommended Anne Loehr, senior vice president at the Center for Human Capital Innovation.
That means be ready with specific examples. So instead of saying, “Your article is riddled with mistakes, don’t let it happen again,” a better approach would be: “There were three typos in paragraphs two, four, and seven. The impact was three reader comments on our quality control,” she suggested.
When you point out areas for improvement or negative behaviors, don’t make assumptions or get judgmental, recommended Aced-Molina.
Use open-ended phrases that leave the door open for discussion and improvement
She said a sweeping statement like: “You are not customer service-oriented enough” is a judgment on the person’s character and intentions. Instead, approach it from a solutions-oriented perspective. “Saying, ‘I would really like to work with you on deepening relationships with customers,” can be a better approach.
While feedback should happen frequently, don’t spring it on someone unexpectedly. Let them know you want to have a discussion about performance, and ask if they’re open to that, said Loehr. “You want to ask permission,” she said. “The person might not be able to take it in at that moment.”
While positive feedback can be acceptable in a group setting, anything negative should be done in a one-on-one setting.
Don’t go overboard
While you might have a laundry list of improvements you want an employee to work on, focus on one or two behaviors at a time.
“Be very strategic and rather limited with how much feedback you give in a one-on-one situation,” said Aced-Molina. “People can only absorb so much, and the more you pile on, the more likely they are to tune out and write you off.”
While these meetings should be brief, remember they are a conversation. “Allow the person to respond and give them some time to think about what was said and allow them to come back and talk about it again.”
Practice what you preach
If you want employees to be more open and comfortable with feedback, you need to set the tone.
“Solicit feedback for yourself. People have it for you, but they are hesitant to offer it to you,” said Heen. “And the more senior you are, the fewer the number of people are going to risk giving you feedback.”
Heen suggested asking an open question to make workers feel more comfortable, like: “What is one thing we can change that will make a difference to you?’”