Giving and getting feedback is both exciting and terrifying.
We all want to know when we’ve done a good job, and it’s nice to be able to tell someone when he or she has really succeeded. But it can be heartbreaking when we’ve failed, and maybe even harder to deliver that same news to someone else.
As a leader, the feedback loop is a huge part of your role, and being able to deliver tough feedback effectively is crucial for your effectiveness and relationships with your team. The better you deliver both good news and bad, the more your team will come to you for feedback, which in turn helps them get better and better. Which is great! But also challenging.
Giving great feedback has a lot to do with delivery and managing communication. There are a thousand ways to do it wrong, and each of them is problematic in their own way. If you only hint at problems or changes and then fume when your team doesn’t notice, that’s a big problem. And if you drop unprovoked, overly harsh truth-bombs when your team least expects it? That’s bad too.
To do feedback right, address the conversation like you would any other. Try to see it from the other person’s perspective. Think: how would I want this information given to me? The more you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the better you’ll do at making real progress. Here are some of our favorite tips for giving great feedback.
Give fair warning that feedback is coming.
Even better, ask if you can give the person feedback. When you email the person to set up a meeting, or when they first sit down, let them know you want to go over a recent project and give some feedback. Is that alright with them? Priming the person to receive feedback makes them infinitely more prepared to process it well. No one likes to be blindsided.
Focus on things, not people.
Critique work (not the person) and avoid using phrases that sound accusatory, like “When you send 10 emails in a row it’s really overwhelming for the team.” Instead, opt for something that focuses on the task and not the person, like: “It’s easier to process status updates in one organized message. Here are some strategies for doing that easily.” It’s the work you have issue with, not the person doing it.
Mix bad with good.
Hearing positive reviews can soften the blow of negative reviews, so many managers choose an “oreo” style of delivery: positive comment, negative comment, positive comment. Whatever delivery works best for you; just make sure you say everything you need to. Don’t get hyper-focused on one negative or one positive (unless there is only one issue you want to discuss) and give each issue the time you think it deserves.
Explain why things are this way.
Most of the time, people are usually doing the best they can with what they have. So if a person makes an error, it helps to explain to them exactly why things need to be done differently. It doesn’t mean they’re bad at their job; it just means they didn’t have all the information they need. When you give your feedback context and explain the larger reasons why things need to be done the way they do, people can make smarter adjustments.
Sometimes sharing a similar challenge from your own career can give negative feedback context that makes it easier to process. This can be an opportunity to build trust, but be careful not to overshadow the person’s moment by making it all about you.
Offer suggestions and plan for the future.
It’s important to let the person know that this feedback is part of the process, and they won’t be fired or punished for making just one mistake. Emphasize the importance of learning and growth, and then offer suggestions for future improvement.
Be prepared to listen.
Once you’ve delivered the feedback, give the person some time to react. Sit quietly, and if they are hesitant to speak, ask if they have any questions for you. If they need time to vent, by defending their work or explaining their perspective, listen calmly. If you don’t get worked up, they are less likely to get worked up. Plus, knowing that you are receptive to their point of view makes them, in turn, more receptive to your feedback.
Delivering bad news is never easy, but by communicating effectively with your team you can make feedback a part of a truly effective work process.