“Your presentation was good today!
But, your slides could improve a bit.
Overall, it’s a fantastic job. Just by improving your visuals, your audience will be more excited.”
Let’s reflect on this feedback example.
Is it a kind approach with little to no criticism? Yes.
Is it clear and constructive? No.
This is an example of the feedback sandwich method. It’s when you start your feedback with positive comments, then provide your actual feedback (usually negative comments), and then again, end with positive comments. This approach mutes the message people want to convey and overprotects the recipient. It’s not constructive, as it confuses more than helping the recipient.
In this article, we will examine how not to approach feedback, how to give constructive feedback, and why it plays an important role in your organization.
Feedback 101: What to avoid
Just like the sandwich approach mentioned above, there are certain methodologies or approaches that sadly don’t hit the mark of giving effective feedback to your employees.
How you give employee feedback really matters, and makes a difference in how you treat your people and what you expect from them in terms of development. Let’s see a few examples of what you should definitely avoid when giving feedback.
1. Being vague
Being too generic and not specific can lead to confusion.
When you give employee feedback, you probably have a clear idea of what you’d like to see changed. This is why you should point out something specific an employee can work on (e.g., time management, communication, taking initiative, etc.) and give targeted examples of how they could improve.
2. Adopting other people’s opinions
Often, it’s useful to ask for people’s thoughts. For example, if you want to determine whether one of your team members collaborates well with others, you could reach out to people who worked together on a group project and ask about their communication.
But don’t let others get in your head. In order to give constructive feedback, don’t adopt other opinions without using your own critical thinking. Gather people’s thoughts, consider them, and see the full picture before making your final decision.
3. Giving overgeneralized feedback
“Always” and “never” are big no-nos when it comes to sharing feedback with individuals. They demonstrate exaggeration and generalization, and create negative feelings that bring frustration rather than change.
Be specific and mention the exact times your employees did something wrong or really well.
4. Getting affected by recency bias
Focusing solely on more recent incidents and missing the bigger picture is something you should avoid when providing constructive employee feedback.
Judging people on things that have recently happened is a common trap. Try to look back on past events (it helps to keep notes) and take a wider view.
Master the art of how to give constructive feedback
Providing valuable feedback to your employees is necessary for maintaining high levels of performance, motivation, engagement, but most importantly, trust. Feedback should occur on a regular basis, and not once or twice a year—or even worse, not at all.
Which is, however, the best approach to conduct effective feedback sessions? Here’s what you should keep in mind:
Focus on the issue(s) that need to be addressed and be specific
If you ask an employee to do better on x or y, you must tell them why. Don’t assume they know.
For example, if Brooklyn from the IT team misses deadlines a bit too often, simply telling her, “Try to stick to your deadlines,” assumes she knows why this is so important. Be very clear about the problem—in that case, the fact that processes fall behind and teams are kept waiting—and plan your feedback accordingly.
Sometimes, your employees can’t see the whole picture behind an issue. It is essential that you enlighten them on how this might affect their team, their coworkers, and the business in general. The more clear and on-point your feedback is, the more actionable it will be.
Don’t make it personal
Avoid feedback that could be taken as an attack. This means, try being as objective as possible, by leaving your feelings and biases at bay.
Valuable employee feedback is one that focuses on observations, not personal opinions. Discuss the situation itself, not your approach. Share your goal to find a solution to the problem, and make clear your intention not to criticize anyone involved.
Acknowledge and reward high-performing employees
Giving feedback to employees doesn’t mean only highlighting negative behaviors and trying to fix them. Feedback is a must when you observe positive behavior and exceptional performance. In this way, you reassure employees that you haven’t lost perspective.
Make sure you acknowledge such occasions both privately and publicly. This will motivate employees to keep thriving and set great examples for their coworkers.
Mind the gap: Don’t over-emphasize the positives. This might lead to you appearing uncertain, biased, or insincere. Find the right balance and provide feedback (positive or negative) on specific employee performance areas.
Find the right tone to communicate your thoughts
Being direct is always a great approach to effective feedback. It’s best to speak in person, not via email or text message. Even if you’re in different locations, a video call is preferred to sending a message or email.
Schedule a 1:1 meeting with the employee you wish to provide feedback to and have an honest discussion. Even if you’re opting for a casual and more relaxed conversation, don’t be too friendly or blabber around irrelevant issues. Be direct and clear, and get straight to the point in order for your feedback to be as effective as possible.
Also, it’s essential that you are frank. Your tone should match the content of the feedback, or you might end up giving mixed signals to your employee. Use phrases that show you want to be helpful and clear rather than sarcastic.
Be an active listener
Feedback is an interactive process. It’s not only about communicating your thoughts and criticism. An integral part of it is listening. Give employees the opportunity to respond and share their concerns, or their own interpretation of the issues being discussed. In that way, you make them active participants in finding solutions and taking action.
Be aware of timing
Timeliness is essential when wondering how to give constructive feedback—both positive and negative. Praise employees when their achievements are still fresh, or pinpoint issues around the time they have occurred.
However, bear in mind that it’s better to wait and see things more clearly and objectively if a situation is tense. Never provide employee feedback fueled by emotions.
But why so much fuss about constructive employee feedback?
You probably already know that you need to give feedback to your employees.
But it’s highly important to pay attention to how to give constructive feedback. What you say matters, and how you say it matters, too.
Let’s explore how providing constructive feedback to employees can help your teams and organization.
1. Building transparency and trust
Feedback (either positive or negative) gives opportunities for discussion and exchange of viewpoints. When leadership and employees work together towards a common goal with honesty and thoughtfulness, solid professional relationships are built.
Employees feel heard and evaluated but not criticized, and are more likely to cooperate when issues arise. At the same time, leadership and management know they can address issues (or praise) without causing frustration (or over-excitement) to employees.
2. Focusing on core development
How can one fix something they don’t know? For instance, Mark from the marketing team always thought he was nailing his competitor analysis. Little did he know that his research was poor and improperly executed. Had he ever received honest feedback on how to improve his approach? If the answer is no, then how would leadership expect him to reconsider and try a different way of conducting his analysis?
By providing employee feedback that’s specific and relevant, you help employees pinpoint pain areas and improve them. Don’t let your employees in the dark. Give them the initiative to take action and bring further value to your organization.
3. Setting clear expectations
People who know what to expect are more likely to perform better. And when expectations are set and clear, leadership can better evaluate, too. It’s a win-win situation for both parties involved.
With regular feedback sessions, expectations are always discussed, so anticipations are met much more effortlessly. Everyone has a clear understanding of what they need to do and how to do it, how to evaluate, or how to be evaluated to fulfill these expectations in the future.
4. Offering continuous learning
Constructive employee feedback is an amazing opportunity for your employees to learn new things, develop skills, and be more motivated and productive. When given regularly, feedback helps nurture a never-ending learning culture in the workplace that boosts performance and morale among your teams.
Don’t forget—it’s all give and take
Employee feedback is a two-way street. Employees must know their thoughts and concerns are being heard. You shouldn’t just put only them in the spotlight.
While you offer feedback, keep in mind that you should also ask for it. It’s the only effective way you will also be able to sharpen rough edges on processes and approaches.
And when you ask for feedback, keep an open mind, evaluate, and, of course, act upon it.