How to Give Effective Feedback

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Here are three ideas on how to give constructive feedback to an employee.

First, check your attitude. You must always offer feedback to make someone better. Have a positive intent. When you are giving feedback, and particularly feedback that can be perceived as negative, if people know you want them to be better, they will be more open to what you have to say. And you want to put it that way, saying something like “John, I want you to be the best supervisor you can be. That’s why I’m giving you feedback about the interaction between you and Sarah at the staff meeting.”

Second, try to understand their position. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” This is the first commandment for effective communicators. Before you provide feedback, ask questions. Learn everything possible about the perspective of the person to whom you are giving suggestions. If you’re offering feedback in response to a particular incident, first try to understand everything about what happened before reaching a conclusion. You may not have the full story, and you want to make sure you understand it well before making a suggestion for someone to change. Be slow to judge and provide advice, and when you do, make sure you do it in a calm, professional manner.

Finally, tie the feedback to the mission of the department and organization. I find it easy to focus outcomes to the destination of the organization, that is, the mission and purpose. Does the behavior you’re discussing move the organization closer to or further from its mission? Answer that, and the feedback becomes much simpler. We always want to be moving closer our organization’s goal, and tying your feedback to the mission is a logical approach.

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