Critical feedback is one of those truly necessary evils in the workplace. It’s essential to developing personnel, d
riving profits, and streamlining productivity. But it isn’t easy. For both the receiver and the person delivering the feedback, it’s tough to talk about what needs work.
The best supervisors know how to provide feedback in a way that minimizes damage and maximizes productivity. If that’s your goal, read on.
Provide a heads-up
The reaction you want to avoid the most is defensiveness, which happens when people feel attacked or surprised. There’s an easy way to mitigate this, and the most effective supervisors use this strategy every time: don’t surprise anyone.
Lead with this line: “Do you have a few minutes? I’d love to provide some feedback on that project.” Now your staff member knows what the conversation is about and has a little time to reflect, relax, and prep for your comments. It’ll feel more like a conversation and less like an assault, and that’s going to set both of you at ease. Remember, afterwards, to follow up with a “thanks for taking the time to listen to my feedback.”
If you’re critiquing a behavior, be as specific as possible. Which of these scenarios seem most likely to produce a positive result?
- “I can’t believe you spoke to me like that during our meeting.”
- “When you sound angry during meetings, it reduces office morale and hurts our professional relationship.”
Example 1 is going to elicit some serious defensiveness. Example 2 is specific enough to encourage a change in behavior.
If you need to provide feedback, do it immediately. You’ll maximize effectiveness when the incident or the project is still fresh, and you’ll show that you’re really invested in whatever process you’re discussing. Of course, feedback may need to wait until the end of a meeting or a presentation. And if emotions are running high, consider waiting until the following morning to talk.
Make sure you believe in what you’re about to say
Spend some time thinking about why you want to provide feedback in this case, and what you hope to get out of the interaction and subsequent change in behavior. It goes without saying that your anger or frustration should never be justification, on their own, for critiquing an employee’s behavior. But if you’re concerned about the organization’s mission, the bottom line, or team morale, be prepared to discuss any/all of those as reasons for your feedback.
With a little practice and a bit of preparation, critical feedback can be a growth opportunity for you, your employee, and your organization.