Even when we are prepared to hear it, no one likes receiving critical feedback. As a manager, it can be equally uncomfortable to give it. Use the following checklist to ensure that all constructive criticism you give employees will be as well-received as possible and lead to worthwhile performance improvements.
1. Ground yourself in why you are giving this feedback.
More often than not, how someone receives our feedback (both positive and negative) is not about what we're saying but how we're saying it and why. Assess what you want to achieve by giving this feedback.
If you warned your direct report to proofread their slides twice before submitting yet there was a glaring error in the presentation, do they already know that? Is your motive for providing this feedback rooted in “I told you so”? If your reasons for providing critical feedback aren’t 100% rooted in improving their performance and the company’s performance, ask yourself if it needs to be given, and if it needs to be given right now.
2. Pick your moment.
If you have reviewed your internal motivation for providing feedback and you feel confident that it needs to be done, ask yourself if it needs to be done right now. If your employee’s error just occurred, do you need to grab them as they come off the stage? Whenever possible, wait enough time to ensure that neither you nor your employee will be emotional or defensive for this conversation.
3. Focus on actionable items, not personal characteristics.
There is a world of difference between, “Next time maybe your pride won’t prevent you from listening to me when I ask you to proofread.” and “For next time, I’d like you to confirm with me that you have proofread the slides by this date so that I can review them for anything you may have missed.”
Focus on only one thing if you can, not every possible change. Be as specific as possible with any suggestions, including objective measures of meeting expectations and a clear timeline of action items.
4. Start from a place of respect - even if (especially if!) you don’t really feel that way.
Imagine that rather than a subordinate, you are providing this feedback to a superior. Imagine you have to be as delicate as possible when you deliver your assessment. Be careful with your words and conscious of impact, not just your intent. Make positive statements that assume future success, like “Once it becomes second nature for you to proofread while looking for specific things, you won’t even think twice about it.”
5. Model receiving constructive criticism yourself.
Establish a practice of regular check-ins with your direct reports and when appropriate, take the lead in self-identifying areas for growth. If you are honest with yourself, there are always things you can be working on, and by openly acknowledging specific development in yourself, you will remove some of the fear and anxiety from future feedback delivery conversations.
6. Practice using open body language.
Plant your feet on the ground or cross your ankles. Square your shoulders and sit up straight. Be conscious of how you use your hands and keep them palms up when possible. You don’t have to smile, but try not to clench your jaw or purse your lips while listening. Be cognizant of your eyebrows and facial expressions. Nod and reflect that you are actively listening to your employee - this should be a conversation, not a one-sided speech.
7. Don’t use 15 words when 5 will do.
When we’re uncomfortable, sometimes we tend to repeat ourselves to make sure we’re getting our point across. This tactic backfires though, as it makes the person we’re speaking to feel lectured to. They tune out because they already got the message and everything else is just white noise. Your employee is most likely anxious during this feedback conversation and already knows criticism is coming. Be brief and make your point. If you ramble on, your key feedback will be lost. You want this person to walk away from the conversation with a clear idea of how to improve.
If you keep all of this in mind, you will emerge as a manager who is seen as fair and competent, and your feedback will no longer fall on deaf ears. Your team’s performance will improve and you will get all the credit!
Jenny is the founder of Forward in Heels Executive Coaching, which empowers badass women who want to excel at what they do, stand tall, and own their worth so they can light up the world. As a licensed psychotherapist as well as certified executive leadership coach, Jenny has been helping women make bold, lasting changes in their lives for over a decade.
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