It’s always a sticky situation when you have to give or get negative feedback and this is just not a topic always covered in business school. It really is about understanding how to manage people relationship systems. Here are some guidelines for giving feedback so you can mentor employees to grow to the next level.
For most of us giving and getting feedback is uncomfortable. We would rather lie on a bed of nails than have to give difficult or negative reports. In any case, we are rarely taught about the dangers and pitfalls inherent in these often tense and uncomfortable situations.
The main problem is that we were never taught to decipher the secrets of why we interact the way we do. This vital realm of relationships has been left to psychology professionals. Not good.
It is vital for managers and executives to learn about this, the core area of workplace success. Relationships have a whole set of invisible rules. You have to know the rules to play the game or you will find yourself running for a touchdown when the rules say you should be dunking the ball into the basket!
Here are 3 guidelines for giving feedback:
- Watch your words. Specific words and sentences can set up an incendiary atmosphere and will stop the discussion in its tracks. Be careful about words like "never" and "always". They lead to an "I dare you" posturing and puts the responder on the defensive. Here is an example: "Tom you are never on time with your part of projects" will end up with a knee jerk rebuttal of the one or two times Tom was finished on time. You lose the momentum of what you want to get across and Tom is battle ready
- No voting. Be careful not to talk about anyone else who is upset with Tom. Even a generalized "Others feel the same way" will backfire. Then all Tom can think about is who they are and how fast he can get to tell them his version of what is going on. The idea that there has been talking behind Tom's back will stop him from hearing you and the rest of the meeting will be a waste of time.
- Don't wobble. Come to the meeting with time lines and agreements already in your mind. Often Tom will give you empty promises and want to stretch the parameters to give him more time to "work on the issues". What is needed is clarity and gravity. You become the gravity for Tom with your clarity. If you become wishy-washy because you want to be seen as fair you lose the ability to help Tom change.
Managers are, in many respects like parents. Give enough room for each employee to grow to the next level. Be generous in your praise and strong in boundary setting. Think about it, you would not give a six year old the keys to the family car and wish him a fun afternoon.
Help your employees by holding them accountable, each at their level of expertise and they will be coming to you for feedback time and time again.