Giving feedback to your employees can feel like walking on a tightrope; when the feedback is received well, it feels like a major accomplishment, but when the feedback doesn’t land well, the damage to the employee-manager relationship can be impactful. In fact, 31% of managers say they avoid giving feedback altogether.
However, we all know that the only way to improve in our jobs is to receive effective feedback, and as a manager or supervisor, providing constructive feedback to your employees is one of your responsibilities. By dispelling four common feedback myths, we can focus on the positives of feedback:
Myth #1: Employees don't want feedback.
It can be daunting to call an employee into the office, sit them down across from you, and recount an area that could use improvement, especially when you don’t know how they are going to accept the feedback. Many managers believe that once an employee has been trained, seasoned employees need less feedback about their job performance than new hires. However, Joblist’s feedback survey showed that 33.4% of employees said they wanted more feedback from their managers.
Determining when and where you give the feedback can help the process go more smoothly. Instead of sending the feedback in an email or correcting an employee during a group meeting, try private one-on-one sessions. When new employees start at your organization, ask them how (and how often) they would prefer to receive feedback, and revisit this question quarterly.
Myth #2: There are two types of feedback: positive and negative.
We typically think of feedback in two categories: good or bad. However, this generally relates to how the feedback will be interpreted rather than what is being said. When it comes to feedback content, there are actually four types of feedback: directive, contingency, attribution, and impact.
The first three types (directive, contingency, and attribution) tend to focus more on the manager’s subjective perspective rather than on the employee. Directive feedback is when a manager is telling the employee what specific action to take, for example, “Answer your email more promptly.” Contingency feedback focuses on future consequences, for example, “If you don’t answer your emails more promptly, you will not be qualified for a promotion.” Attribution feedback places dispositional labels on employees, such as “You are an unfocused worker,” which may be unfairly placed on employees when the manager may only witness certain aspects of an employee’s performance. With these three feedback types, the manager is in control of the conversation, which can put employees on the defense.
The fourth feedback type, impact, centers around the effect that the employee’s actions have on others around them. In the impact feedback type, managers describe a situation, the employee’s subsequent behavior, and the resulting impact that their action had on their team. Impact feedback allows for employees to understand the reason behind why the feedback is being given. While all four feedback types may need to be used from time-to-time, using the impact feedback type most often will allow you and your employee to work together as a team to identify and break down negative patterns in their behavior.
Myth #3: There's nothing you can do to prevent negative feedback from disengaging employees.
Think back to the last time that you received negative feedback from a manager. Your face may have flushed, your heart may have started to beat faster, and you may have had to tell yourself to calm down. Even though it can be hard to hear negative feedback, it doesn’t necessarily mean your employees have to automatically disconnect with you or the organization. Because receiving uncomfortable feedback causes our sympathetic nervous system to activate, triggering those “fight or flight” responses, it is important to give feedback to employees when they are in their comfort zones. Try to choose moments when employees are in their “flow” at work, working in the tasks they enjoy and in a calm, positive state of mind.
Myth #4: Employees will only take feedback seriously if it comes from someone in a position of power.
Many people think that only the individual’s boss has permission and is responsible for providing feedback that will be impactful to employees. However, to promote successful teamwork, coworkers can also give feedback to their colleagues, as they may see areas in an employee’s performance that can be recognized or improved that the supervisor may not witness.
As a coworker, the key to giving effective feedback successfully is to foster an environment of trust and camaraderie. When you value your colleagues and invest in their success, you build an atmosphere of psychological safety. In that “safe space,” your coworkers are more likely to respond better to your feedback, especially when you are genuinely interested in seeing them reach their highest levels of achievement.
Highlight patterns of positive outcomes
When preparing to provide feedback, keep in mind your employees’ positive attributes and contributions. Whether it be looking at what worked in the past or what action can be applied in the future, give your employees some credit and responsibility when it comes to determining how to make changes. They may already have the experience and knowledge needed to move forward with a plan.
Receiving feedback isn’t easy, and as a leader, you should be prepared to receive some negative emotions. But focusing on the positive outcomes that can result from constructive feedback can help everyone move toward success.