Criticism is rarely easy for anyone to hear, but the manner in which it’s provided can make a huge difference in how feedback is received and how useful it can be in helping the recipient grow.
The way most organizations handle feedback is terrible. Bosses save everything up till the dreaded performance review rolls around. Piling up a year’s worth of feedback in one day is grueling and stressful for everyone involved. Instead of being an opportunity for growth, it’s treated as something awful to get through.
I believe there is a problem—not only with the whole performance review process but with how we communicate feedback. We have institutionalized the art of letting people know how they’re doing, often with a process that does more harm than good. But we dutifully follow the system that’s handed to us, even though it’s unsettling for everyone involved.
Feedback can be invaluable when it’s offered in the right way with the right intentions. Knowing the how and when is a skill, and like any other skill it takes practice to get it right.
Here is the process I teach to top leaders around the world. It’s effective, constructive, and geared toward employees’ overall growth and development.
Make sure there’s a reason. For feedback to be effective, it must have a purpose. You may be analyzing a recent problem to prevent it from recurring, or the employee’s role may be involved in an area that’s been targeted for expansion. Effective feedback requires credibility, and that credibility is absent if only context is “It’s review time and I have to list something under ‘Areas for Improvement.’”
It has to be given at right time and at for right duration. Appropriate timing is important. When an event triggers a need for feedback, provide it as quickly as possible (but not in the heat of the moment). Timely feedback allows you to address issues more effectively, and it doesn’t leave employees feeling blindsided.
It has to be done routinely and regularly. Examining events and looking for highs and lows, and especially for places where changes would be beneficial, should be a regular part of your leadership, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. When feedback becomes part of that process, it doesn’t make recipients feel singled out or like a scapegoat.
Keep it simple and specific. To be effective, feedback must be clear. Stay on track and stick to the issue at hand. Avoid phrases like you never or you always—discuss the impact of specific behavior without blame or personal criticism.
Make it interactive. Feedback works best when it’s treated not as a one-way street but an interactive session for problem solving. Ask for input and ideas to help clarify it’s about progress, not punishment.
Use “I” statements. The best feedback comes from your personal perspective. You can avoid labeling, blaming and accusing by making sure your sentences start with “I”: I thought, I sense,, and by expressing yourself with concern and care,
Know when to go private. It’s a wise principle that’s easy to forget: give recognition in public and criticism in private. Create a safe environment, away from hearing ears, and speak in a way that no one can overhear or disrupt the conversation. Privacy is important.
Stay focused. A good feedback discussion is about one issue, not piling on every large and small grievance at once. If you expand the scope of the feedback to include objectives and criticisms, you risk having an employee who feels attacked and demoralized—and who wouldn’t? Stick to the specific behavior that the employee needs to change.
For every negative, give two positives. A good rule to follow is to start off with something positive. This helps put the person in the right frame of mind to receive information. It’s also good to end the discussion with something positive so they don’t leave discouraged and dispirited.
Follow up for progress. The whole purpose of feedback is for improvement. Feedback needs to be carried out in a constant loop in which everyone thinks about what they’ve done and what they could do better, as they work to grow and develop—and that requires measuring accomplishments. Discuss what is and isn’t working and work together on anything that needs to be amended.
If feedback is positive and constructive, positive outcomes will be the result; if it is grounded in negativity, a lack of engagement and failure will follow.
LEAD FROM WITHIN: Feedback is effective when it’s a two-way street. You need to know how to give it effectively and receive it constructively.
N A T I O N A L B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness
After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.
Additional Reading you might enjoy:
- 12 Successful Leadership Principles That Never Grow Old
- A Leadership Manifesto: A Guide To Greatness
- How to Succeed as A New Leader
- 12 of The Most Common Lies Leaders Tell Themselves
- 4 Proven Reasons Why Intuitive Leaders Make Great Leaders
- The One Quality Every Leader Needs To Succeed
- The Deception Trap of Leadership
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.