26. How to Give Constructive Feedback To An Employee


How to Give Constructive Feedback To An Employee

Do you struggle giving feedback to an employee? Do you worry it will be misheard or taken personally?


This is the fourth in our series of questions that I commonly get asked by leaders from various organisations, and this one is around how can I give constructive feedback without coming across as negative?

And I've discovered that leaders actually are quite concerned about when they have to sit down and give people feedback. And when you think about it, we're not often trained or equipped with the skills necessary to do that. Many of us get promoted into leadership roles because of our technical expertise, etc. We do great at what we do.

The organisation realises that people are prepared to follow us, and so we're encouraged to take a leadership role. And quite often we don't get the supporting training that requires us to build a range of skills to be successful at that. It's pretty much jump in, swim to the surface. If you do, you're gonna be a successful leader. If you don't, well, we'll look for the next leader. Unfortunately, that's the way it's been a lot of the time, but smart organisations recognise this and do provide development training.

Two Types of Feedback

So if I wanna give feedback, so there's generally two types of feedback. The one is the positive type of feedback. You've done really well at something and you wanna share that. Most of us actually enjoy giving that type of feedback. And then there's what we termed here as the constructive feedback or the negative feedback when they haven't performed or haven't done what was expected. And that gets a little prickly for a lot of people, but it doesn't need to be that way.

Let's unravel that a little bit and think about what can we do to be able to have a really meaningful conversation with somebody when we provide feedback? In this case, we'll look at providing negative feedback but doing it in a way that doesn't stress out you and/or the person you're engaging. 

Some of the things that we need to think about first off is as a leader, you should make it your practice if you're not already doing it to continually give feedback. It should be ongoing throughout the year. There should be no surprises to anybody about what they know that you think about them in terms of their work. It should be just a conversation ongoing all the time.

Engage in Regular Conversations

If you're regularly engaged in coaching conversations, this is really a very, very smart way to build that relationship. And then the events that we're talking about, having to give negative feedback are rare. And if they are, it's quite acceptable to the individual because you've been there supporting them most of the time anyhow. And the other thing is think about positioning the feedback you're going to give. If it's negative or constructive feedback, position it. It's about the opportunity for growth.

Why am I giving this feedback? It's because this is an opportunity to be reflective, look at what's going well, not so well, and what you can do to improve it and get a better outcome next time. So that's the way you should position it.

Focus on behaviours not the person

The next thing is to focus on the behaviours, not the person. Sometimes we get fixated 'cause the person has disappointed us and we get focused on the individual rather than what they did or didn't do. So let's find a way to keep that on track. And I'll explain a model in a moment that will help you. There are many models, and I suggest you go out there and seek some through reading or through internet searches, etc.

Find one that works for you and, more importantly, works for those around you. The last thing to do is if you're giving constructive feedback, ensure that you've got your data. Actually use facts, specific days, specific activities, the things that they did or did not deliver on, and then it's more valid to the individual. So most of us, if you give open sort of constructive feedback, it's not highly valued and it actually becomes offensive, so you need to explain when you did this.

On this day, this was the outcome. And now that leads me nicely into the model. So one model I've found helpful is the situational behaviour model and impact. So this model talks about what was the situation? What were the behaviours observed? And what was the impact on that? So in this case, it was a detrimental impact.

What we need to do is describe the situation. So there may be one or more situations and you go through each one. So first off, talk about the situation. What did you observe? And then talk about what were the behaviours that you also observed that align with that?

For example, you've noticed that Frank in meetings has a tendency to talk over other people that he does not agree with. So he's using a method of countering anybody else's point of view and keep pushing his to the fore, and that's not really the way a team will fully debate things. So you decide you wanna take Frank on about this, and so you take him aside in a private situation and you begin to give him some feedback about that. So the situation was in the meeting that we just had, I noticed that, and I've noticed a number of occasions on Friday's meeting, the Monday before's meeting, there's a trend that I'm not sure you're aware of and I wanna bring it to your attention, 'cause I'm finding it's disrupting the team's effectiveness.

And that is when people are putting forward points of view, you're actually talking over the top of them and drowning them out. Are you aware that you do that? And then listen to them. And usually that's driven by passion. Someone has an idea, they get really passionate about the idea, and they wanna drive that idea home and they stop listening to other ideas.

The leader's job in that meeting would have been to say, look, Frank, you got a really valid point here. Has anybody else got any comments on that? And then if people agree with Frank, then you keep that going. If they don't disagree with Frank because, then you need to actually get him to wind down and back off a bit.

And that's the impact. So then you explain. You describe the situation. You talked about the behaviour that was observed, and then you talk about the impact. Frank, when you were doing that, did you not realise everybody was just switched off in the meeting? It was like, Frank's gonna get his point of view across. He's no longer listening to us, so we'll just shut up and do nothing. And that's not productive. That's not the environment we agreed and brought into in our team culture.

Situation observed, the behaviour observed, and the impact of those two combined. That's a very clear and easy way to explain and give negative feedback. And you give them a chance to respond to that. And more importantly, you need a commitment from them that having understood the issue and the impact that they will actually conduct themselves differently, and that's what you're looking for.

I wish you well. It's a challenge as always, but don't overcook it. Keep it simple. Be there for the other person, and you'll connect with them, you'll build the empathy required to have these sort of conversations. Wishing you every success.

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