Since the dawn of the workplace, the relationship between management and subordinates has been a complicated one. Managers are trying to maximize the performance of their teams and a necessary part of that process is providing constructive criticism to individual contributors.
But knowing how to provide feedback to subordinates in a way that doesn’t ruffle any feathers can often get tricky. There’s always the danger of someone taking things too personally, creating drama, or damaging team morale.
Thankfully this process doesn’t have to result in conflict, resentment, or wounded egos. You can give feedback to your team members that result in positive outcomes by following some of these tips to providing effective feedback to your subordinates:
1. Control Your Emotions
Part of being a leader is acting professionally and coming across as unbiased as possible. Being overly aggressive, yelling and shouting, or belittling others in front of their peers almost always results in disaster. Critiquing someone when you’re emotionally peaked or on edge is a big no-no when giving feedback to employees. If it’s an emotionally volatile situation, take some time out to let things cool down on both sides. While it’s important to give feedback in a timely manner, in heated situations it’s often most appropriate to cool off and schedule a meeting for the next day to discuss things rationally.
2. Don’t Offer Criticism In Front of Peers
Although it might be justified, delivering criticism in from of peers and coworkers will often be interpreted as an insult or belittling act. The result is a team member becoming defensive because they feel singled out. Instead of calling someone out in public, quietly schedule a time and place to talk privately so that both you, and your team member, are both comfortable and can address the issue appropriately.
3. Be as Specific as Possible
The point of feedback is to improve the performance of both your individual contributor and the team. It’s not the time for any sort of “he said, she said” kind of conversation. Leave the gossip and non-relevant personal issues out completely. The information you present to back up your criticism should be concrete and about specific performance related occurrences. Note the specific actions that have taken place, why they need correction and what is to be done about them.
4. Feedback Should Be Timely
The worst case scenario is that you are addressing issues that happened many days, weeks, or even months in the past. As a best practice, any issue should be addressed within 24 hours of the occurrence. This prevents things from festering or boiling over further down the road. It also shows the employee that someone is actively monitoring their performance and creates a culture of accountability.
5. Don’t Be Grim
If approached the wrong way, negative feedback can seem like an end-of-the-world scenario to employees. It can signify in their minds that they aren’t valued, high-performing or suitable for the position. On the contrary, you want to reassure employees that you do have faith in them. Don’t make employees feel like they are simply waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of getting fired. If they feel like it’s the “end of the line”, it will only serve to demotivate them and hurt performance. With every criticism, make sure to include positive feedback to instill a sense of confidence. Key remarks like “shows a strong work ethic” or “has a positive attitude” are great for tempering any negative vibes.
6. Listen, Don’t Just Talk
While it might be tempting to go through a laundry list of what you think the problems are, one of the best things you can do is provide an open ear. Give an overview of what you think the issue is, but give them a chance to speak and voice their opinion. Even though they might be wrong, be engaged in hearing out their concerns. This will make employees feel like they have been given a fair shake in the process and more readily accept the next steps or actions.
7. Define an Action Plan
One of the most important aspect to seeing positive results from your feedback is creating a positive action plan that ensures future success. Without a definitive action plan, your feedback will be taken as a hollow act or power trip from a bad manager. You should also define some action items on your end to make things even-ended, such as providing additional resources or training to improve performance.
8. Follow Up!
So you’ve given someone the constructive feedback they need, heard their concerns voiced, and created an action plan. There’s one more key step for you as a manager, and that’s to follow up. Behaviors often don’t change overnight, and it’s incumbent on you to provide continuous, positive reinforcement to make sure old habits aren’t repeated. Don’t nag, but check in to make sure that your team member is staying on the path to success you’ve previously laid out.
If you want to learn more about how to provide feedback to your peers, colleagues, and subordinates, be sure to check out the Working with Difficult People course from CLIMB Professional Development and Training.