Whilst employees generally want to receive constructive feedback and recognise the benefits that it can bring, leaders and managers often don’t feel comfortable giving it.
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92% of people agreed that negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance (Zenger & Folkman) but only 26% of employees strongly agreed that the feedback they’re getting is helping them to improve their work (Gallup).
When given correctly, feedback can motivate employees, build commitment, and improve team and organisational performance. However, it is not enough to simply give constructive feedback and then assume that the job is done – leaders also need to ensure that the right message has been received, clearly understood and appropriate steps are then agreed / taken.
Here are our 10 steps for giving effective constructive feedback
- Prepare for the conversation and consider what you want to achieve by giving the feedback. Do you need to be directive and tell them what your expectations are going forward; are you going to offer suggestions for how they could improve their performance, or will you be asking them to identify how they could approach the situation in future? Think about when and where you should have the conversation.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about how you can deliver your message in a way that will allow them to understand and absorb what you are saying.
- Check your assumptions. Our brains process information in a particular way which can cause us to jump to conclusions, make judgements or be affected by bias. Ask yourself, 'what are all the possible causes of this situation and for this person’s behaviour?' before you reach a conclusion.
- Focus on the reason ‘why’ you are giving them feedback. Emphasise that your goal is not in any way to criticize or blame, but simply to help them to do their best in order for them to achieve their objectives.
- Structure your feedback to help you to keep the conversation focused and avoid getting side-tracked by irrelevant issues, excuses, or defensiveness. Focus on the behaviour, not the person and be specific.
- Explain the impact that their behaviour has had on you, the team and/or the organisation. 74% of employees who received feedback already knew that there was a problem (Zenger & Folkman) but they often may not know how to improve or were unaware of the impact on others.
- Keep an open mind. Be prepared for the other person to have a different perspective on events and be willing to ask questions if appropriate so that they can share their point of view.
- Listen to what they have to say. The research by Zenger & Folkman also found that the more that managers showed they were listening to their employee’s perspective, the more honest and trustworthy their feedback was perceived to be.
- If the other person is becoming defensive or argumentative, take deep breaths, keep calm and don’t allow the tone of the conversation to escalate as that won’t achieve anything. If necessary, suggest taking a break to allow them to process what you have said and return to the conversation later when it may be more productive.
- Focus on the future. The purpose of constructive feedback is to improve performance, so avoid dwelling unnecessarily on the cause or explanations for past events and focus on how they can take steps to improve their performance going forward.
Giving feedback is a leadership skill which can be developed, improved and honed with practise. Harvard Business Review (2017) found that 21% of managers avoid giving negative feedback but by failing to tackle challenging conversations, they may be allowing resentment and frustration to build by ignoring performance issues. By having regular feedback conversations, you can improve your confidence, build trust with team members and help individuals to achieve personal, team and organisational objectives.
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