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How to deliver feedback effectively

When you get promoted to a manager of people, just one of the new skills you have to develop (often overnight) is the ability to deliver effective feedback to your team.

The vast majority of us deliver feedback to others on a regular basis; I love your new hair…that shirt looks great on you…that meal was delicious. But when it comes to competency in the workplace, giving feedback (particularly when it could be construed as a negative) can be easier said than done, especially when you’re new to the role.

There are two extremes when it comes to managers and leaders delivering feedback;

  1. The over-compassionate leader; filled with anxiety at the thought of delivering any negative feedback. Would rather bury their head in the sand and overcompensate by trying to ‘fix’ any issues caused by a team member themselves.
  2. The bullish leader; gives out feedback readily, without consideration for their delivery or how the person on the receiving end may feel.

Both scenarios are incredibly demotivating for the employee. With the over-compassionate leader, team members are kept in the dark about the areas in which they could improve, resulting in limited progression. With the bullish leader, employees become overburdened with feedback, putting their self esteem and confidence at risk. 

When I first started out in people management at the tender age of 24, I leaned towards the first type of leader, finding the whole thing awkward and asking myself ‘who I am to tell this person where they could improve?!’ (hello limiting belief!).

This obviously didn’t serve me, so as I developed in my management positions, I learned the sh*t sandwich approach; placing the negative piece of feedback in between two positives. But how often do you remember the good when you’ve been told something negative? Hardly ever as our ego naturally gets fixated on the negative. I can’t say I’d recommend this approach either.

So what is the best way to deliver feedback in a constructive way?

There are two things that I changed about the way I delivered feedback that had the biggest impact. 

The first was dialling up positive reinforcement. What I mean by this is, rather than focusing on the numerous times someone didn’t do something quite ‘right’, go heavy on the time they did. So if you have a team member who is quite disorganised in nature and therefore often misses deadlines, instead of constantly reflecting the negative back to them, praise them heavily for the times that they do hit their deadlines. Tell them exactly how them providing what you needed on time resulted in a positive outcome for the business and the impact it had on you personally. The chances are they’ll start displaying the behaviours which result in the positive feedback more frequently. Interestingly, studies show that while most managers think they give enough reinforcing feedback, most employees feel like they don’t get enough – so don’t be afraid to step it up! 

The second was bringing my coaching skills into management. This is based on the premise that we all have the answers within us, but often it takes some careful questioning to bring these blind spots out of the shadows. The example I want to share is about a team member who had been in this particular business for many years but had limited progression. In our initial meetings, I wanted to better understand his personal objectives for the role and his future. His reply was commendable; ‘to be the best in my role that I can be’. The challenge I had was there were a number of fundamental skills that were required for the role which I couldn’t see any evidence of.

Rather than pointing out a long list of negatives, I started asking questions:

  • What does ‘best’ look like? 
  • What skills would someone who is the ‘best’ at your role have?
  • What are your strengths in relation to the person you have just described?
  • What can you learn from the person you have just described?
  • What support do you need from me in order to help you to become the person you described?

This exercise was extremely enlightening. Not only did it highlight that this person knew what skills were required to be ‘the best’ at his role, it also uncovered the reason that he was lacking in them. Interestingly it wasn’t because he didn’t have the skills, it was because his previous manager always took on the responsibility for tasks that would have required him to use them and he continued to take a back seat. This simple exercise opened his eyes up to his own potential, not only giving him a much needed confidence boost, but also providing him with the motivation he was lacking. 

The important thing to remember as a new manager is that learning to give effective feedback takes practice. But it’s a skill that will elevate your team and yourself as a leader. So persevere, keep asking for feedback yourself and before you know it, you’ll be an absolute pro!

Want further support in your new role as a manager? Kate combines her first hand experience and qualifications as a coach and Master NLP Practitioner to help those new to management positions to develop the mindset and skills which will elevate them in their role. Read more about her leadership coaching here or book your free discovery call.

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