Providing constructive feedback to an employee can be difficult, and there are certainly a lot of articles and resources out there that share the basics of giving constructive feedback.
So instead of re-hashing fundamentals of feedback, let’s look at a few of the little, yet key things that you can do that may be the difference between an effective conversation that leads to improved performance and one that produces minimal results or worse yet, deteriorates.
Here are seven communication essentials to constructive feedback that often get overlooked but can lead to the outcomes you are looking for.
- Environment. Choose an environment that is free from distractions and will allow both of you to focus on the conversation. Being in an environment that is conducive to feedback will help you and the coachee be completely focused on the discussion and issues at hand. It also sends a non-verbal message to the coachee that this is important and you are invested in their success.
- Give the employee time to talk. Make sure you do not monopolize the conversation. Involve the employee in the discussion. Ask questions. Don’t rely solely on closed-ended questions to obtain information. Instead, use open-ended questions that require more than “yes” and “no” responses such as “Help me understand what is affecting your work?” Then, rephrase the employee’s statements. “What I hear you saying is…?” This approach allows you to be sure you understand their perspective and the employee will more likely feel like they have been heard.
- Don’t allow the discussion to get off track. Stick to the facts and the objectives of the feedback meeting. If the employee tries to sidetrack an issue, acknowledge his/her comment, but then bring the discussion back to the topic at hand. By doing this, you are emphasizing the importance and/or urgency of the feedback topic.
- Diffuse emotional responses/posturing. Listen actively and acknowledge the employee’s feelings (frustration, concern, etc.) and the situation. You want to avoid having the other person feel like you are discounting their feelings (whether you agree with them or not). Give the employee time to respectfully express his/her feelings; however, don’t be swayed by an employee’s emotional response. Show empathy while remaining focused and direct. We all know how tough it can be when emotions get intense; don’t be afraid of calling a time out if things get overly emotional. Just maintain your composure and explain that the meeting will need to be put on hold and then give time to let things settle.
- Be conscious of relationships. Don’t allow a friendship or tight knit relationships preclude an honest discussion of the issues and subsequent consequences of continued poor performance. Remember, sticking to the facts and objectives allows you to address the behavior and not the relationship you have with the employee. Using “I statements” are always a good way to go if you find yourself in this situation.
- Get a commitment. In a straightforward way, ask the employee if he/she is willing to accomplish the objectives. “Are you committed to making these changes?” Checking for commitment doesn’t have to be complex, it can just be a simple question to gauge the employee’s commitment to improve performance or change their behavior. Knowing where their commitment lies will guide you in knowing how to support and follow up with them.
- Be positive. Don’t overlook the employee’s past good performance and always indicate your support. Acknowledge those things that the employee does well or was successful with in the past. Sincerely remind them of the success they have had and that you believe they can achieve success again.
Approaching an employee with constructive feedback positively, with some forethought on how and where you will have the courageous conversation and being aware of a few of the little things that can make a difference in the discussion can make all the difference in the outcome. Make sure your outcomes are the ones you are looking for.