Have you ever struggled to give or receive feedback?
The truth is, giving feedback, positive or negative, can be challenging, whether you’re a mid-level manager or the founder of your own company. Even in our personal lives we may struggle to give feedback to our friends and loved ones and they may be unable or unwilling to hear it. You know what you want to say will
be helpful to the other person, but you don’t feel like your message is getting across. In fact, even if you do feel sure that it is, you may be surprised to know that it’s not. Whether you’re alarmed by confrontation or consider yourself a very blunt and straightforward person, there’s always more to learn, and we learn best from each other through honest feedback on our words and actions. Being able to give feedback in an emotionally intelligent way is more likely to get you the results you want, so it’s definitely worth a try. How does it work though?
1. There’s a time and a place
When giving negative feedback, it’s rarely a good idea to do so in front of others, especially if it’s new information to them. For example, if your employee accidentally sends the wrong info to a vendor you work with without realizing, don’t bring it up and name the employee at the next team meeting. If you want to use their error as a learning example for the rest of the team, first speak to the employee in private and discuss the issue with them and ask permission to bring up the error with the team without using their name. Not doing this will likely make them feel blindsided and humiliated, even if no one else knows they were the one who made the mistake. Naming them in front of the group is even worse, as it puts them on the spot and undermines their credibility to their coworkers, whom they still have to work with after. Always be mindful of when and where you give someone negative feedback - the ONLY exceptions are in dangerous situations where an employee is about to make a mistake that could cause harm to themselves or someone else. If that’s the case then stop them by any means necessary, but still, don’t dress them down in front of the team. Be mindful too of your own emotional state before giving feedback - if you’re already in a bad mood it will affect what you say and how, which will increase the risk of being misinterpreted. At that point the most likely outcome is that you will both walk away from the situation feeling worse than you did before.
2. People have different preferences
Treat others not how YOU want to be treated, but how THEY want to be treated. When you bring someone onto your team, you should be asking them about their preferences when receiving feedback as part of the onboarding process. Some people want to know right away when they’ve made a mistake, while some prefer to be told at regular feedback sessions. They may even have preferences in how they receive positive feedback, so it’s best not to assume based on your own experiences. It’s also the perfect time to tell them how you tend to give feedback as a manager. Setting expectations on both sides will minimize misunderstandings.
3. Rehearse what you need to say
Particularly for those with anxiety, confronting a coworker to give feedback can cause a great deal of stress. A very helpful way to minimize this stress is to start by focusing on your intended outcome. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you stay calmer. Once you’ve thought about your outcome, come up with an outline of your points and practice what you need to say, keeping it in mind to use “I” statements and how the other person’s actions made you feel. The purpose of this is to keep the focus on the person’s actions, rather than their overall character. After all, you don’t want them to feel attacked or defensive, because they’re far less likely to hear you and learn. When practicing what you want to say, you can do it in front of a mirror or with someone you live with (without breaking your NDA of course); rehearse your points a few times over until you feel confident both in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Try to avoid writing everything out verbatim and saying the exact same thing every time however - you don’t want the feedback to feel rehearsed, even if it is, because that can change the tone of the meeting to something you don’t intend.
4. Positive Feedback
Giving negative feedback in a positive or neutral way is definitely important, but you know what’s equally important? Giving positive feedback! Not merely as away to sandwich negative feedback, but on its own. Studies show that positive feedback actually makes employees more productive and engaged with their work. People need to know when they’re doing their job well and when their boss or coworker is pleased with them. They can’t read your mind after all, and if they only hear from you when they’ve done something wrong, it can foster a potentially toxic work environment. Make sure when setting up regular feedback sessions that you are setting aside time in those sessions to review what they’ve done well and why - being specific matters. This is also the kind of feedback you can give publicly as well - if you’re a meeting facilitator, spend maybe five minutes at the beginning or end of team meetings to highlight team members who did something especially well. Don’t let it consume the meeting or cut into the important updates, just make sure that people not only know what they’ve done right, but that others know what they’ve done too. This can boost the team’s morale and also bring them closer because they will see you their boss setting a positive example.
Remember that giving feedback well is a skill, which means it’s something you might have to work at if it doesn’t come naturally to you. This is why knowing the people on your team, how they work, communicate, and function will enable you to improve. Setting a good example where you can openly admit to mistakes to your team will also make it easier for them to trust you and give YOU feedback on your management or coworking style. It might sound counterintuitive, especially if you work in a more traditional industry, but soliciting feedback from your employees and coworkers is crucial to establishing strong lines of communication. Communication is everything when it comes to emotional intelligence and applying it to your work. When you can communicate comfortably, even with people who may be very different from you, you open up your workplace to greater cooperation and a sense of unity and solidarity.