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Giving feedback at work

October 19, 2022

Giving feedback at work is an important aspect of leadership roles, and can be crucial to an employee’s progress. There are very productive, positive ways to do it, and ways to do it that lead to misunderstandings, stunted productivity, and even talent loss. As a manager, it is important to remember that the most productive exchange of feedback begins with the person giving it, although learning to receive it is a skill that employees should be encouraged to cultivate. 

Here are seven tips on giving feedback at work and making sure that it is a positive part of your team members’ experience. 

Before you give your feedback, make sure that you are questioning your biases.

Many of us have unconscious biases that we need to be constantly evaluating. This is especially true for people in leadership positions. Says NPR: “Giving feedback that’s rooted in ableism, sexism, or racism isn’t feedback!”

Being aware of and banishing bias should be an ongoing part of your role as a manager. To learn more about how to do it, start with this great post by SHRM: How Managers Can Overcome Their Personal Biases.

What outcome are you hoping for? 

Being clear on what your intentions in providing feedback are is a good way to prevent hurt feelings or other negative outcomes. The MasterClass blog post “How to give constructive criticism” says: Are you planning on giving negative feedback as a way of blowing off steam or asserting your own dominance? That kind of feedback rarely leads to effective results and is unlikely to change a person’s behavior or performance. Effective feedback generally comes from a genuine desire to help someone improve, not to settle some kind of personal vendetta.” 

Ask yourself: are you giving feedback to make a point, or to support your employee?  

Feedback involves consent – make sure that it is a dialog and that the person you are providing the feedback to agrees to participate.

Even the best-provided feedback can be taken negatively if a person feels caught off guard or receives it at the wrong moment. Giving someone notice by scheduling a time to talk will go a long way in helping both people feel prepared and at ease. 

Be specific, avoid broad generalizations. 

Managers need to be very aware of their communication skills and to seek to use elements of healthy communication. When providing feedback, this means avoiding generalizations and using phrases or words such as “you always…”, “you never…”, “everyone,”  “it’s obvious.” 

Instead, be as specific as possible about what you have seen from the employee and how they might improve or adjust. 

Lean into your discomfort

Feeling uneasy about providing feedback or constructive criticism? This may be a valuable opportunity for you to grow as an organization leader. Practicing having these conversations even when you feel resistant or nervous about the outcome will help you develop this important skill set and be a better resource for your employees. 

Balance with praise

Feeling deflated at work or as though you have failed can be hard to come back from. As important as it is to make sure that you make people aware of how they can improve, it is important to keep this in mind. Plus, you will both feel better after the conversation if you end things on a positive note. 

An often-suggested tactic for those providing feedback is to use the “feedback sandwich.” This means layering constructive criticism first with praise, then with the criticism, and then with another layer of praise. 

Learn more about this technique here: Serving Up the Feedback Sandwich. 

Suggest next steps

Feedback is only as valuable as what a person is able to do with it. Always make sure that you are not simply pointing out a flaw or something that an employee can improve on, but how. Go the extra mile by suggesting a check-in to discuss how the employee has done with the information you’ve provided. 

More resources for managers: 

Be a leader in your organization 

How managers can help prevent Zoom fatigue

Want more team productivity this year? Try silent meetings (even via Zoom)

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