The Art of Delivering Feedback in a Supportive Way

The two keys to doing it right.

By Amy Vetter

As a manager, it's important to deliver feedback that walks the fine line of being both positive and instructive.

If there's one thing all management experience has taught me, it's that feedback is one of the most important parts of the relationship between an employer and employee. It is also one of the most complicated--especially when it comes to critical feedback.

But constructive criticism is very much a necessary part of work life, so it needs to be handled well and in real-time.

Kim Scott's "Radical Candor" is a great way to think about delivering feedback that might not always be easy to hear but is important nonetheless. Kim, a former Google and Apple executive, often points to an experience during her early days at Google when her then-boss Sheryl Sandberg told her she said "um" too often during an otherwise slam-dunk presentation. Sheryl was clear in her criticism and suggested Kim get a speech coach (at Google's expense) to address the issue. Here is a further explanation of why this works:

Sheryl was being Radically Candid. If Sheryl had tried to candy coat her criticism, she would not have gotten through to Kim. Most bosses would not have pressed so hard for fear of being called "mean," or fear of compromising their work relationship, but Sheryl knew she was being kind with her direct criticism. She showed she Cared Personally, knew what she needed to say to help Kim improve long-term, and she had the courage to say it.

As a manager, you absolutely need to train yourself to have Radical Candor. After all, enabling team members to do their work better and develop professionally is a key part of your role, and when you're doing what you're supposed to do well, it will spill over and positively affect other aspects of your life.

Delivering critical feedback should really start way before you have the actual conversation.

There are two more things I recommend to set the stage for those conversations, which will help make them as successful as possible.

It's all about relationships.

From day one, your priority as a manager should be to create good personal relationships with team members. Fostering an authentic connection builds trust over time, and if employees trust you, they will be less inclined to feel like you're being overly critical when you critique their performance. This also goes for positive feedback as well. When they know you appreciate the good work, any small adjustments or opportunities to help them along the way is easier to provide.

Of course, there are so many other benefits when it comes to building trust with employees. But in this case, it's key because trust will help employees feel like the criticism is coming from a good place and they're less likely to be defensive when hearing it.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager is not to set up ongoing, devoted time to meet one-on-one with team members and deliver feedback. Unfortunately, the absence of these meetings is all too common.

It should be continuous.

Millennials are notorious for wanting feedback in the workplace--they've been accustomed to receiving almost instantaneous feedback from parents, teachers, and coaches for most of their lives. But a 2016 Gallup survey found that only 19 percent of Millennials say they receive routine feedback. Most employees (56 percent of Millennials and 53% of non-Millennials) say they meet with their manager less than once a month.

Check-ins need to be a lot more frequent because they provide a structure for developing a relationship. Then, of course, when you do need to give critical feedback, you'll also be starting from a decent place where feedback is part of the environment and employees are used to hearing what you think, and it does not come as a surprise.

Feedback is a necessary part of coaching your employees, even if it's not your favorite part of your role as a manager or business owner. Radical Candor can help during these moments, but you need to set yourself up for success way before the need arises for the success of your staff and your business.

 

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