The right (and wrong) ways to give employees feedback

Learning how to give feedback can help build open communication and improve performance

WeWork One ITC in Shanghai. Photograph by WeWork

Regardless if you’re a manager or employer, how you provide feedback is crucial. You might find yourself resorting to either excessive criticism or praise, as a reaction to the performance of your employees. And that can be damaging to your operation. Instead of those strategies, consider constructive feedback. This information-rich technique can do your workplace a lot of good because it’s based on objective observations and focused on specific issues.

1. Be clear about what you want

When you give feedback, it will work only if you first state its constructive purpose. Say clearly what areas you’d like to cover in your feedback and why you consider them important.

The way in which you initiate your feedback is crucial—it will immediately set the right tone and give your employee a heads-up about where the conversation is headed. Use expressions like: “I had some thoughts about…,” “I’d like to discuss this issue with you…,” or “I feel I need to let you know something….”

2. Say what you really mean

True leaders care about the professional growth of their employees and aren’t afraid to show it. Delivering constructive feedback with genuine care works miracles—even if it’s not the kind of feedback they’d like to hear. Your employees will understand that you’re talking about those issues because it’s in their best interest.

People can instantly tell if your caring attitude is fake. Once they sense it from you, your feedback won’t cause a real change in their attitudes. Being honest and genuine is simply worth it.

3. Be specific

When giving feedback, never speak vaguely—using expressions such as “always” and “usually,” or referring to observations made by other people. Be specific—talk about a situation you’ve observed yourself. State the details of the action or event: who was involved, what happened, and what were the results.

Here’s an example of a great starting point for constructive feedback: “This morning, when you were following up with our clients, I noticed that your communications didn’t follow the strategy we all agreed would be part of our outreach practice.”

4. Allow time for a response

Feedback isn’t only about delivering your opinion; it’s also about listening to what your employees have to say. After giving your feedback, indicate that you’re waiting for an answer—meet their gaze and remain silent.

If you spot some hesitation on their part, try using one of these phrases: “Please tell me what your thoughts are on this,” or “What do you think about this?”

5. Offer suggestions

If it fits the situation, try to include practical advice and examples when you provide feedback. Development is at the very core of constructive feedback, so offering suggestions that are based on careful observation and evaluation will not only make your message clear but it will also help put your words into action.

If you’re delivering feedback to a forgetful employee, try a phrase like this: “I often find myself forgetting about meetings and tasks, but keeping an online calendar synchronized across all my devices works great for me—maybe you will find it helpful too.”

6. Show your appreciation

Expressing your appreciation of employee performance is pure praise. Adding the why into the mix makes it constructive feedback—a message that is sincere and valuable.

When your employees get it right, show your appreciation and always state clearly what aspects of their work you consider most important and how that relates to the overall success of the company.

Giving constructive feedback is a skill, something that requires time to develop. And, like other skills, once you master how to give constructive feedback, there will be invaluable results—from open communication to significant performance improvement—making a tremendous difference in individual and collective morale.

This article was originally published on April 24, 2015, and has been updated throughout by the editors.

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