One of the most challenging tasks supervisors face is also one of the most important: providing employee feedback.
Whether positive or negative, feedback should be motivating and constructive to help keep productivity and morale levels high in an office. How you deliver this message can help fuel forward momentum or stall any progress.
“There is no employee who is perfect and everyone can improve,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open and always including good and bad reviews in a constructive way to forge strong relationships. Don’t wait for employees to seek out a review, schedule regular check-ins, says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, instead of waiting around for a quarterly or annual review.
Also, come prepared to each evaluation meeting with what you want to convey.
“Everything isn’t always retained and you need to give the message in one sentence so the other person remembers the message,” says Dobroksi.
To make the conversation more effective, be consistent with how you deliver both good and bad news. “The whole point of constructive criticism is to help guide your employee through their job and coach them along the way,” says Williams.
Here are expert’s tips on how to provide employees feedback in the most efficient and meaningful manner.
Know When, Who and How to Approach
Part of your job as a boss is to provide constructive criticism to your direct reports in order to develop your team. After all, your performance is tied to your team’s performance.
Sometimes by asking whether you can share your observations, a colleague will be more likely to approach your feedback with an open mind.
“If you’re dealing with a peer or someone you may not have direct authority with, ask for permission before dropping the type of feedback,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders. Respect reporting lines and figure out whether you or that person’s boss should deliver the message.
Choose a Neutral Location
Experts caution against giving individual feedback in a crowd or a team meeting. Decide whether a conversation over lunch or coffee, or during a one-on-one in a conference room, is best. “If it’s something that’s more serious, the type of feedback determines if it belongs in a professional space in your office,” says Augustine.
A neutral location may help you brainstorm how to help the other person improve. “Explain why you went to a different place,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com. “Tell them you wanted to focus on the conversation and not be distracted—feedback is tough to hear and you want to talk about what to do to make it better.”
Tread Lightly With a Manager
Use a soft approach when giving feedback to a manager. “Everyone loves a compliment so if your boss hits a home run at an event or meeting, let them know,” says Williams. Share with colleagues the article they’re quoted in or that they wrote, for example.
When giving negative feedback to your manager, err on the side of caution, suggests Williams. If you want to make management style suggestions, ask if your boss is open to being more transparent because that would help your performance. If you’d like to suggest weekly meetings, style the meeting as a way for you to do a better job.
“You never want to be seen as the employee who buys their boss a ‘How To’ manual on how to manage’,” says Williams. “No one likes a know-it-all—least of all your boss.”
What to Say to an Employee
“You want to be specific and avoid hearsay,” says Augustine. Talk about what you’ve witnessed and focus on the behavior, not the person. Don’t make the talk emotional or personal. “At the end of the day, if you’re giving feedback, there’s good motivation behind it. Feedback has to come from a place of caring.”
Experts suggest bringing to light areas needing improvement to become a stronger member of your team. “Feedback helps you coach your staff—you’re making sure your team is constantly performing and evolving,” says Augustine.
It’s also important to reinforce positive behavior. “When giving positive feedback, also give suggestions and direction on how they can improve and get to the next level,” says Dobroski.
Be direct and specific. “Don’t beat around the bush—everyone’s time is valuable,” says Dobroski. Provide the best constructive criticism that you can and offer direction or suggestions—bosses give direction and employees give suggestions.
Your feedback should have specific examples. Let your employee know that a recent project set them apart from their past work or how they really should have handled that disgruntled client. “Nobody’s perfect and we can all use a ‘check’ from time to time,” says Williams.
Offer solutions. Frame feedback so there’s something they can take away and work on. “Be candid and direct but you need to have some kind of solution,” says Haefner. Giving positive feedback is a great problem to have, and offer suggestions to help continue the momentum.
Don’t be negative. Augustine cautions about using negative phrases like “I don’t think” or “you shouldn’t”. This could make the other person become defensive or cause them to shut down and disregard your message. Phrasing your suggestions in a positive way with phrases like “what if we tried” or “have you considered” will help drive home the point.
Be empathetic. “When it’s a manager giving feedback, they probably need to use a little more empathy,” says Haefner. Tell the other person what went wrong and how to improve, but lead with a statement like “I know this is hard to hear” or “I’ve been in this situation before”. This shows you’re able to relate to the other person and creates a better dialogue.
Listen. “You do need to listen to help them work through the feedback,” says Haefner. It’s important that you control the conversation so it doesn’t become a venting session.
Watch Your Body Language. Augustine suggests sitting side-by-side or caddy corner to each other. Eye contact, hand mannerisms, the tone of your voice and body language are all keys to delivering the right message. Understand your audience and how they take feedback in general—anticipate how you think the other person might react.
Ask the other person if they’ve any questions, give answers and thank them for their time, says Dobroski. “Then go back to your desk and get back to work.” If you’re getting feedback, try to implement the suggestions. If you’re a manager giving feedback, start monitoring for those suggestions you made and when you see improvements—back it up with positive reinforcement.