How to Give Feedback to an Employee… Without Upsetting Them


Giving anything other than glowing feedback can feel like the most difficult job in the world. As a manager, you know you must do it, yet it feels so mean. It feels unnecessarily cruel. Sometimes it seems better to avoid the issue and save face all round.

However, if you want to be an effective manager, you need to be clear with your team about where they need to improve. So, it’s time to bite the bullet and give that feedback. What you might need are some tips to make the whole process much easier for everyone.

1. Prepare

There will be little chance of success if you decide suddenly to pounce on your team member and give it to him with both barrels. That’s not giving feedback, that’s being cruel. Instead, you need to invest some time in reflecting on exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. You also need to get into a positive and calm state of mind so that emotions don’t run high and you say things you didn’t mean to.

2. Environment

Similarly, it’s well worth spending some time and effort in choosing an environment for the feedback which will make it easier for the person to be receptive to it. A private office, or space where you know you’ll not be interrupted, is essential. It’s also preferable to be able to sit alongside the person. This changes the physical dynamics of the situation from combative to collaborative.

3. Intention

A great way to ensure the person receiving the feedback has an open and receptive mind, and doesn’t feel defensive, is to be clear about your intention. Starting the conversation with a phrase like “I know how keen you are to progress your career, and my intention in the next few moments is to share some feedback that you may find helpful to meet your goals” is a helpful way for making people feel at ease. When they hear this they know you’re on their side.

4. Agreement

You can’t take feelings for granted. So, before you actually start to give the feedback, it’s essential that you gain their permission to continue. The good thing about this is that, once permission is given, people feel more of a sense of control and less need to be defensive.

5. Feedback

When you give the feedback, you need to be clear and firm in tone. It’s also essential to provide evidence so that you’re not just feeding back opinions. Give a few examples of behaviour or performance that was below what is expected and deliver the examples in a neutral, factual way. Once delivered, ask if the person recognises as true the examples you have given. If not, ask what his/her interpretation is and explore it. If, on reflection, you have misread the situation, accept it and be gracious. If not, try and call on other examples that show similar behaviour.

6. Next steps

If people don’t accept the feedback, ask them to reflect on it and to meet again in a few days to discuss it. At that point, if they still disagree, at least you have made clear what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour or performance and it will be quickly dealt with next time.

If people do accept the feedback, create a development plan to help them improve in that particular area.

There’s no need to shy away from giving feedback, even when negative.

Heather Foley

Heather Foley

If approached correctly, the experience can be constructive and positive. By putting together a plan and by following a few logical steps, your feedback can be well received and, more importantly, helpful in making a change. Who wouldn’t want that?

With thanks to Heather Foley, a consultant at etsplc.com

Published On: 3rd Oct 2016 - Last modified: 19th May 2017
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