Giving feedback in a professional setting often feels hard.
Providing constructive feedback is a crucial step in helping your team members grow. Yet, many leaders feel uncomfortable about the process.
There are many reasons why feedback can feel fraught. You may worry that it will make your employee like you less. You may think that they won’t be receptive to your words. Or, you might feel like feedback is a recipe for shame if you have received unhelpful critiques before.
Giving feedback in a way that is responsible and positive is possible.
Sharing advice with your team members is necessary in two broadly defined situations. The first is when a specific issue needs to be addressed. The second is to support overall professional growth and development.
Try this strategy when you feel compelled to address a specific issue with an employee.
Reflecting on why you are compelled to share the feedback allows you to enter the conversation with grounded confidence.
1) Begin by examining your motivation for giving the feedback. Ask yourself whether it comes from an actual performance need or whether it stems from your own discomfort.
If there is a genuine need for a change, identify a specific example to help you illustrate things objectively for your team member.
Sometimes, unconscious bias can make us want to change our employee's work styles to be more like ours. If the feedback is actually a personal critique, it will negatively impact your employee's work, your relationship with them, or the organization as a whole.
Remember, there is value in embracing a range of perspectives and styles as long as your team member is operating respectfully and fulfilling their responsibilities.
2) Now that you have clarity on the business need behind the feedback, it's important to understand the person you're talking to.
What does your employee value?
What matters to them in terms of their role?
How do they view success?
The more you know about what they care about the more effectively you can frame the feedback in a way that resonates. It’s much harder for a person to dismiss feedback when it is presented in a way that benefits them and the organization.
Here's an example of how this strategy helped one of my leadership coaching clients.
My client (let’s call him Jayden) had a team member (let’s call her Veronica) who routinely responded to client questions with incomplete or incorrect information. By employing this feedback approach, Jayden first checked in with himself to confirm that this wasn't an issue of misaligned styles but one with actual business implications.
Next, Jayden reflected on what he knew of Veronica. He knew she valued responsiveness, based on how quickly she replied to interoffice and external emails.
He framed his feedback with this in mind, explaining to Veronica that he appreciated her commitment to responsiveness to signal that her clients mattered to her. He also explained that in prioritizing speed over accuracy, she actually undermined their trust. To achieve her true goal of effectively serving her clients, Veronica was encouraged to find a better balance of speed and accuracy. By approaching the conversation this way, the pair had a more productive discussion.
When using feedback as a component of professional development, try this.
Helping your team members build skills and grow as professionals is part of being an effective leader. Instead of saving your thoughts for annual or quarterly reviews, weave meaningful feedback into the everyday fabric of work.
Marshall Goldsmith and Jon Katzenbach coined the term “feedforward” to describe an approach that encourages individuals, teams, and organizations to create a positive future rather than ruminating on past mistakes.
I appreciate Goldsmith and Katzenbach's proactive approach because it puts you and your employee on the same team. It also moves the focus away from critique and toward development.
Inspired by the essence of this tool, I suggest this approach to clients:
1) Ask your employee what they want to work on. Find out what matters to them regarding their development and explain that you want to support them in achieving this goal.
2) Together, identify opportunities for you to observe the behavior they are trying to improve so you can pay attention, offer suggestions, and help them reflect on their progress.
By taking these steps, the feedback will always be given in the context of real scenarios, making it clearer and more impactful.
Here’s a story about how this strategy played out for a different coaching client:
Another client (let’s call her Monica) wanted to improve her presentation skills. Because she spoke English as a second language, she was often nervous about speaking in public and worried her ideas didn’t come across clearly.
Monica identified a senior leader whose communication skills she admired and reached out to him for mentorship. She shared her presentation challenges and goals. He, in turn, offered her advice and feedback on her presentations to the executive team. Monica felt more confident and empowered thanks to the development-focused feedback she received.
Are you inspired to try these strategies and improve your approach to feedback?
If you're looking for a safe space to discuss how it's going, I encourage you to join my free Leading Humans discussion group. We meet every Thursday at 12:00 pm EST to discuss leadership development challenges with curiosity and empathy.