leader giving feedback to employee

We’ve all heard the phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but that’s just simply not true. Words can and do hurt, especially when someone criticizes something you’ve created or a talent that you’ve worked hard to develop and view as a personal strength, like the skills required in your role. There is often a negative perception of feedback because it’s commonly used to discuss something that was done wrong or a mistake that was made. Even those of us with very thick skin can struggle to accept feedback graciously, either on or off the job, and even when it’s given with the best of intentions.

As a leader, it can be difficult to tell someone something that could potentially hurt their feelings or damage the relationship, but when leaders fear hurting their team members’ feelings, they either neglect to give direct and constructive feedback or they fail to give any feedback at all. When a leader makes either of these choices, the team member remains unaware of their misstep or opportunity for improvement, so they are unable to rectify it and do better in the future. The leader may feel better in the short term because they didn’t have to have an awkward conversation with their team member, but they are also restricting their team member’s growth and possibly hindering the success of the organization in the longer term.

What if feedback weren’t seen as a criticism or a disparagement of a person’s abilities but instead, as an opportunity to help a team member grow, develop, and perform better in their role?

In order to keep the team moving forward and improving, you as a leader must provide feedback that the team can take and apply to their daily tasks and roles. This doesn’t mean that you have to be tough or unfeeling; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. When giving feedback, you must remember that if you do not share it, you are holding this person back from reaching their potential. Giving feedback is an act of kindness and an investment in the other person. In order to serve your organization, your team, and your team members, you must share feedback and give people the opportunity to grow.

Here are five tips on how to give direct and useful feedback to your team members.

virtual meeting

1. Give Feedback As Soon As Possible

As soon as you notice that a team member has made a mistake or has an opportunity for improvement, you need to share your observation with them. This way, the team member can see what they should have done differently and begin to address it. By sharing feedback in the moment, you are connecting the feedback directly to a current event rather than making a vague comment about something you’ve seen in the past.
Just as you should strive to give feedback immediately, you should also try to give it often. Providing regular feedback will help it to become normalized in the team rather than it being perceived as an insult or something that only happens when a person is in trouble.

2. Make the Feedback Specific

To be effective, feedback must be specific. Tell the team member exactly what you saw and how it could have gone differently. Whether it’s how a team member addressed another team member, that a report was turned in after deadline, or that a team member was late to a meeting with an important client, you must be clear about your expectations and what went wrong.

3. Discuss How to Improve Going Forward

After discussing the employee’s opportunity for improvement, work together to decide what needs to be done going forward. Make this a joint discussion rather than a plan you impose. Approaching feedback as a dialogue will help the team member to feel more invested in the solution and motivated to start.

4. Give Praise and Discuss Opportunities for Improvement

Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be negative; while corrective feedback is the type that is best known, feedback can also be used to provide team members with praise for a job well done and recognition for their work. Make sure to balance the different types of feedback you give to your employees so that feedback is seen as a mechanism for continued growth rather than a punishment for when something goes wrong. This balance will bolster team-member confidence, improve morale, and make any opportunities for improvement feel more manageable.

5. Involve the Other Person

Corrective feedback is about helping the other person improve, so they need to be actively involved in the discussion. Ask for their perspective and reasoning behind their actions. You should also include them in the plan going forward and the goal-setting process.

Throughout the conversation, remember that their feelings are valid and that they may feel upset or embarrassed upon receiving the feedback. Try to be empathetic and go slowly when necessary. It’s also important to make sure that they have the mental and emotional space for the feedback before you begin the discussion. Doing these things will take the person’s position and feelings into account and make them feel respected and better understood.

Although giving feedback can be uncomfortable, you must remember why it’s so important: sitting down and sharing opportunities for improvement with your employees directly supports their growth. No one can get better if they don’t know where they need to improve, and the feedback you provide is essential for their continued development.

To learn more about the best practices for giving and receiving feedback, check out CMOE’s Feedback 360°TM digital course or our Feedback 360 – Giving and Receiving Feedback workshop.

About the Author
Hannah Sincavage
Hannah joined the CMOE team in 2022 and brings both her unique expertise in writing and her prior teaching experiences to the Design Team and CMOE clients. She earned her Master of Arts in Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah. Hannah works with the Design Team to provide innovative learning solutions that meet the needs of each organization.

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