It has been rightly pointed out that soft skills are amongst the hardest to acquire. The art of giving constructive feedback is one such soft skill that calls for an exceptionally intelligent and thoughtful approach. Constructive feedback is meant to create awareness and insight with regard to a situation or behavior. When this behavior is not beneficial to the employee or the company, it is the manager’s responsibility to notice its disruptive nature and help the employee to correct it, without shaming him or putting him on the defensive. Sounds hard? Not really.
Here is some helpful information on mastering this art:
Build a base of mutual respect: When taking the employee aside “to have a word with him”, managers who have already earned the trust and respect of their workforce are already half way there. The employee needs to feel he will be talking to a well-wisher, someone who has his best interests at heart and wishes to see him grow. It is not redundant to invest in the material- and emotional wellbeing of employees. Ensuring that they are in the right place and are not feeling short-changed in any way will make them open to managerial feedback and they will be willing participants in the company’s growth plan.
Walk the talk: It is pointless highlighting an employee’s deficiencies when you yourself suffer from the same. Also, expecting employees to be open to corrective feedback when you do not encourage the same for yourself potentially creates resentment and can lead to bellyaching in the workforce about a dictatorial management. It is best to avoid the “look who is talking” sentiment at the workplace.
Reduce anxiety: Anxiety levels are bound to mount when you invite the employee to a “discussion” regarding his performance. The employee knows instinctively that this is about feedback, not all of which may be positive. He also knows who is the “Boss”. It may also have been drilled into him that “the Boss is always right”. It would be helpful, while calling him aside, to reassure him by keeping your body language non-aggressive and open. Crossing arms may put him on the defensive and raising your voice could make him feel humiliated and powerless.
Avoid blaming: Finger pointing and blaming can actually put the employee on the defensive. Remember, mistakes happen to everyone. An intelligent leader will try to refrain from blaming and work on a solution instead.
Timing is important: It is very important that you address the issue as early as possible to make the matter right and to avoid a recurrence. As and when you come to know about an incident, make it a point to resolve it before the incident loses its impact for the parties involved.
Be descriptive, but specific: Your role while giving feedback is to:
- describe the situation that triggered the need to give feedback (For example: this incident happened yesterday when Steve came to you for help)
- explain specifically what you found objectionable in the conduct of the employee (you talked rudely to Steve and used some offensive words)
- advise the invidual whether it was a one-off situation or the misconduct has been witnessed previously also (I have come across similar incidents before where you have used inappropriate language with your colleagues).
Consequences: Sometimes, employees can be stricken by their conscience when they realise the impact of their behaviour. Hence, it’s a good idea to tell them how their behaviour is negatively affecting the morale of the team, the productivity and the progress of the team/organisation.
Specific examples: Instead of saying ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should have done this’, it will help to make your message more impactful if you can provide examples or lessons from life.
Do not sugarcoat: When giving feedback you should always be honest. Employees are smart enough to understand that the real feedback comes only after the ‘buts’. Hence, avoid the sugarcoating and lose the ‘buts’. Give your straight forward opinion about the employee.
Choose the right place: While you can always meet in your office space or the conference room, a change of scene might put the employee at ease. Take a walk around your office complex, go to your office cafeteria or a nearby café, to have ‘that’ talk.
Help him come up with solutions: No feedback can be complete without arriving at the solution. That said, the employee needs to acknowledge that his conduct was questionable as per the organisation’s code of conduct.
- Ask him how he would like to address the problem. Give him a few suggestions and let him pick the one that works the best for him. This way, he will feel he has a choice and not feel constricted.
- Also, let the employee know he/she is not alone and that you will be working together to arrive at a solution.
As a leader giving feedback to an employee, you need to take care of the following things:
Listen – Don’t be in a hurry to give your verdict. Give the employee an opportunity to explain himself.
- Be objective – The employee might be your star performer or you might have a low opinion about the employee, however, it’s important that you put your personal prejudices aside.
- Choose the right words – Your language should help in getting the message across to the employee. Make sure your choice of words is appropriate and doesn’t alienate the employee.
- Adopt the right body language – Upon meeting you the employee should feel at ease so they are open to your suggestions. However, you should still apply a no-nonsense air that commands respect. Don’t raise your voice or frown, but keep a friendly tone that will help create an open atmosphere.
- Show you care – It’s important that the employee knows that you genuinely care for them. When they realise that the feedback is for their improvement and growth, they are more likely to tune in.
Many leaders find the task of giving constructive feedback daunting. There’s always a risk that the relationship with the employee will get damaged or the employee will not heed your suggestion and work on it. However, as a leader your responsibility is to give fair and constructive feedback.
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