Management is the art of maintenance – you’re keeping people, processes, and systems running smoothly. That’s a tall order. Processes and systems have gotten a lot more complicated in the digital age, but they still aren’t half as complex as managing people.
Here’s an easy example: you don’t have to worry about a process breaking down emotionally and storming out of the room when you deliver constructive feedback. That’s a real fear – one that many managers have to face daily or weekly.
It’s hard to give feedback, but it’s arguably the most important part of managing people. In fact, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Business and Psychology from Florida Tech associate professor Lisa Steelman, managers with a “higher feedback orientation,” or those who value feedback for themselves, are better effective compared to those with a lower feedback orientation. Florida Tech has a research team dedicated to feedback and employee engagement, stating that “Job related feedback is critical for employee development.”
Feedback can keep employees motivated and focused. It inspires innovation. It prevents ruts and slumps. But when it’s bad (or lacking), it leads to low commitment, waning satisfaction, and high turnover.
Feedback isn’t a skill you master. It’s something you continue to practice at, year after year, and every manager – regardless of background or experience – should strive to get better at delivering it.
Here are five tips you can use to provide better feedback:
Conduct Yourself Like a Professional
You won’t always feel calm or confident when you’re delivering feedback, but maintaining professionalism is arguably the most effective way to communicate constructive criticism. If you’re angry or sarcastic, you’re going to create an adversarial or defensive relationship, and none of your feedback is going to make an impact. Instead, speak deliberately, be fair, and choose your words very carefully.
Focus on Facts
Feedback should be based on measurable behaviors, not emotions. Telling an employee, “I’m infuriated by the way you spoke to our client” isn’t as effective as saying, “Your word choice cost us an $85,000 account today.” Can you see the difference? There’s no subjectivity in the second statement. There’s no opinion or emotion: they are not necessary. If someone’s behavior needs to change, then relying on facts – not the way you feel – is the most effective way to get the message across.
Be Both Critical and Complimentary
Speaking professionally and emphasizing facts achieve one important goal – they keep communication focused on performance and not feeling. To maintain that standard throughout an entire conversation, it’s important to mention both positive and negative performance indicators. For example, if you were trying to encourage a senior member of your team to work more closely with younger co-workers, you might say, “You need to be more collaborative with your teammates, because you have so much to offer and teach them.” Being totally positive won’t get your point across, but being totally negative will shut down any communication channels. Strike a balance.
Offer a Solution
The whole point of delivering feedback isn’t to chastise, or gloat, or exorcise your frustration. Feedback is designed to change an individual’s behavior. That’s your ultimate goal, and you shouldn’t wrap up a feedback discussion without offering the individual some tangible methods for changing his or her performance. Whether it’s emotional guidance, additional training, or otherwise, make sure the individual leaves the meeting with a clear sense of how they can improve.
It’s also important to hear what the individual has to say. If you approach the conversation from a leadership-focused, authoritarian perspective (“You have to change because I told you to!”), your feedback isn’t going to stick, so before wrapping up the meeting, you’ll want to ask the individual if they have anything to add or refute. Give him or her a platform to defend their behavior, discuss solutions, or point out other issues that you may have overlooked.