(For even more tips on how to effectively communicate, download my free giveaway, 7 Secrets To Highly Effective Communications.)
High performing people and businesses don’t happen without clarity. Often, this clarity comes in the form of direct feedback. To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving both praise and criticism. Although it can be uncomfortable to criticize, it’s essential for your team members to know how they can improve.
It requires courage to see things clearly – to “interrogate reality,” as fierce communications expert Susan Scott says.
Although it’s often daunting to give constructive feedback, it’s actually quite a privilege to speak into someone’s life. It can generate growth, improvement, and even transformation in another when you do.
Recently, a senior accounting executive told me about a problem team member she inherited in her new job. Senior management was ready to let the under-performing team member go. The senior accounting executive asked for more time to work with her. After observing her over several weeks, she called her into her office and gave her direct feedback, set a boundary, and told her she would lose her job if various issues weren’t resolved.
It’s been nearly a year, and the problem team member is now one of the top performers.
That’s the ideal outcome. How did this happen?
There is no one right way to give feedback, because the one giving feedback and the one receiving it are unique in temperament, in emotional intelligence, and in how they process information. Still, there are a few actions that anyone who gives feedback should consider to improve the odds for a successful outcome.
1. Give more positive feedback than negative. Studies show that people who work in a place that emphasizes what is going right perform better. One metric suggests that good managers give 5 times more praise than criticism. As Robert Pozer of Harvard Business School writes:
“Unlike criticism, managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity – especially at the culmination of projects. While most bosses seem to think that they dole out praise by the dozen, I rarely meet an employee who feels that the boss sufficiently values his or her achievements. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work.”
2. Give corrective feedback in private. If you give it publicly, you are likely to embarrass your colleague and erode her confidence in you as a leader. It will also negatively affect her attitude, and foster a culture of fear and resentment. You will, inevitably, lose respect.
3. State what you observe. If you have previously set goals that haven’t been met, you have an objective set of criteria to review (e.g., quotas or deadlines missed). If it is another topic, such as a bad habit, be specific. Often, there is one main issue that, if fixed, positively reverberates and improves other areas. Don’t try to cover too many issues at once; one specific observation is better.
4. Explain why it’s important. Be clear about its impact on the bottom line, the team culture, and the future of the business.
5. Pause. Give yourself and your colleague an opportunity to process.
6. Invite questions. Ask them for questions to gain better clarity.
7. Ask them to suggest concrete steps to address the problem. Ideally, these should be a few steps. Write them down, agree on an action plan, and set a regular time to check progress together.
As you grow in each new stage of leadership, your communication skills will also need to get stronger. Much of leadership is communication: listening, facilitating, questioning, affirming, collaborating, inviting opposing points of view, directing, and giving feedback. – CLICK TO TWEET
Giving constructive feedback is one of the most challenging demands of leadership. Joelle K. Jay, PhD, recommends an approach that I believe every manager should read.
I’ve observed that excellent leaders inspire people to do and be their best. When your communications include listening, appreciation, and are clear and consistent, people will work with you to achieve nearly any objective.
Your turn: What roadblocks or challenges do you face when giving others feedback? Please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I respond to all of my emails and would love to help you overcome setbacks and succeed!