7 Tips on Giving Feedback to Employees

By Robert Half on September 13, 2017 at 10:30am

Giving feedback to employees can be difficult. But the best creative leaders are adept at offering both praise and constructive criticism.

While delivering criticism to your team members isn’t always comfortable, it comes with the territory of managing people. The key is to make sure your comments are constructive, not corrosive. That’s a tricky task when emotions are running high and you already feel like your hair is on fire. Here are seven tips on giving feedback in a healthy way that motivates employees to improve.

1. Strike a professional tone

There undoubtedly will be times when you experience a strong emotional response to an employee error. While it’s totally understandable that you’d be upset if a team member’s carelessness or poor judgment damaged a client relationship, throwing a fit isn’t going to remedy the situation. Check your temper and wait until you’re calm enough to deliver more measured feedback. You can’t expect employees to be open to criticism when you immediately put them on the defensive by blaming or shaming. And be sure to criticize in private, not point fingers in public.

2. Emphasize facts not feelings

Address the problem, not your frustrations. For example, if a graphic designer recently missed several deadlines, instead of barking, “I’m so sick of you blowing through my deadlines!” spell out exactly how the person’s actions are negatively impacting the team. You might say, “When you’re slow to complete your portion of a project, everyone is affected because we all have to stay late to meet our obligation to the client.” Then, offer some specific suggestions to help the individual solve the problem.

3. Watch your words

Most people know when they’ve made a major mistake and don’t need help feeling embarrassed. Choose your words carefully, avoiding any demoralizing statements that call into question the employee’s intelligence. Also, avoid subjective statements (“You’re not showing enough drive lately”) and sweeping generalizations (“You never contribute ideas during brainstorming sessions”).


4. Be direct when giving feedback

Sweeping problems under the rug is an easy way to avoid an awkward conversation. But withholding negative feedback does a disservice to underperforming employees because it deprives them of information they could use to improve. Aim to be kind but candid by saying what you mean in a tactful yet straightforward way. Just as you don’t want to be overly harsh, you can’t afford to sugarcoat either. Instead of vague, wishy-washy language (“You’ve been arriving a little bit late every day”), be crystal clear when giving feedback: “I’m concerned your chronic tardiness is starting to hurt your performance and reputation.”

5. Make it a two-way conversation

Keep an open mind and give your creative team members an opportunity to explain their side of the story. Employees will often admit to shortcomings and ask for help — or explain legitimate extenuating circumstances you weren’t aware of. You may even realize that a particular problem is a symptom of a larger underlying issue that’s affecting other team members.

6. Focus on the fix

Whenever you’re giving feedback, remember you have one end goal: to make sure that the issue at hand is swiftly rectified. Whether you have to provide the employee with some additional training, offer more frequent direction or streamline a flawed system, do what you can to help the employee correct the problem quickly.

7. Balance negative feedback with praise

Knowing how and when to provide criticism is an important managerial skill, but don’t turn into a leader who comments only when employees slip up. Consistently offering kudos for jobs well done and recognizing improvements is an excellent way to boost morale and reinforce positive behavior.

Giving feedback the wrong way can lead to retention problems. Read our tips on developing effective employee retention strategies.

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