Giving Effective Feedback

Earlier this month, I sat down with Sheila Heen, Harvard Professor and author of Thanks for the Feedback for episode 24, which was all about getting the feedback you need – how to seek it, make the most of it, and not let it crush your confidence.

But today’s boss tip is all about being on the other side of the feedback equation: giving feedback!

For first-time managers, this can be an especially daunting task. You might be afraid of coming off as harsh, not wanting your personal preferences to impact your work relationships, or like most of us: just want to avoid confrontation.

The first thing to recognize is that giving feedback isn’t the mean thing to do – quite the opposite. Giving feedback is the charitable, generous thing to do. Giving feedback is what you do when you believe in someone’s capacity to do better and when you want to help them along their professional journey.

One of our Bossed Up Bootcamp alums who I recently interviewed for a feature in my forthcoming book actually told me about a job she briefly held where her manager flatly refused to give her feedback, even when she asked for it. And things there fell apart quickly. Not only is giving feedback a key part of being a good manager, it’s an expected part.

So how do we become more comfortable giving feedback? Here are a few key tips to keep in mind:

First, know the time and place. If you don’t already have regular intervals for giving and receiving feedback, make some. I’d say weekly is too often and yearly is too infrequent. I like to make time for quarterly, or at the very least, bi-annual reviews, as it makes it clear to your staff when they can expect to give and receive feedback, so they can emotionally prepare and not constantly worry about getting big-picture reviews on regular check-in meetings. That doesn’t mean you should provide spot coaching and positive feedback more often, but rather, save the big picture feedback on performance for designated review conversations, so everyone can come to the table prepared.  

Get specific about behaviors. It’s not helpful to present too much feedback centered on your perception. “You seem a bit…off.” Or, “You’re lacking executive presence.” Or, “You sound unprepared.” All those adjectives are super hard to interpret because they’re highly subjective and based more on your perception than specific behaviors the team member can adjust. So stick to the facts. What behaviors and actions should they continue? What behaviors and actions aren’t serving them well and should be minimized? The most useful feedback focuses on what the person is doing, because that’s what’s most in their control.

Lead with Intent. Giving negative feedback is never easy. It’s no cakewalk to be on the receiving end, either. But here’s a handy trick that can help you deliver constructive criticism with grace. Lead with why you’re able to tell them what you’re about to tell. Truly start with answering what your intentions are behind delivering this feedback. Perhaps it’s as simple as, “I want to make sure you’re aware of a perception you’re giving off that you might not know of already.” Or it might be, “I want to make sure that in future interviews you lead with your best foot forward, so…” Or it might be more along the lines of, “I know that public speaking is something you’re really working hard on and wanted to bring this one consideration to your attention…”

Paint a brighter picture for tomorrow. In lieu of providing constructive criticism that focuses solely on what not to do, close by clarifying what they should do in the future if presented with similar circumstances. Okay, so you didn’t appreciate them speaking up and interrupting you in the middle of your presentation to upper management. But what should they have done differently? How should they handle it the next time they have a contribution in real time they want to make without stepping on your toes? Paint a clear picture of what should be done down the road to ensure everyone feels respected.

Do you give feedback as a part of your role? What have you found to be most helpful in ensuring that your feedback goes over smoothly? I want to hear from you!

And I definitely want to hear from you if you put these boss tips to use in your life. Hit me up on social media at @emiliearies and @bosseduporg, leave a comment at below, and as always, weigh in on the conversation in the Bossed Up Courage Community on Facebook. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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