How to give tough feedback

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how to give fair feedback that gets results.


Giving good feedback is an art that, it is safe to say, few managers have mastered. By “good” feedback, I do not mean praise or feedback that is only positive. I mean constructive criticism that gives employees an opportunity to learn and develop. Here are some tips to get it right:

  1. Be specific

Telling employees that their work is “good” or their work “needs to improve” does not actually tell them anything at all. Give them specific examples of where they can do better. For example, if they tend to be quiet when in a group, tell them they have to share at least one idea in every meeting. If they completed a report that was valuable, tell them why the report was useful to management and how it is being used to effect change.

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  1. Don’t turn into an evil villain

While all evaluations is not going to be positive, it does not mean that you need to turn into some TV baddie while delivering it. Chances are you probably have to work with this person closely, and you don’t want them to hate working for you. Do not raise your voice, and be conscious of your body language. If you cross your arms or frown it will immediately put them on the alert. Similarly, give feedback on a one-on-one basis. Never discuss their performance publicly.

  1. Be careful of your language

It can be tricky to say the right thing during feedback sessions, particularly if the person receiving the feedback does not respond well to criticism. Practice what you are going to say and always direct constructive feedback at the specific action and not the person. For example, do not say “you were rude”. Instead, say “yesterday, you interrupted John twice.” This tells the person exactly what went wrong, instead of letting them believe everything they did was wrong and immediately putting them on the defensive.

  1. Do not wait for a review

Many managers might leave it until a quarterly or even annual review to share feedback with staff — this is a mistake. We do not grow or improve at specific points throughout the year. If someone does a good job, tell them so, and the same applies if they are not living up to your expectations. Your employees are not mind readers. Giving them valuable feedback now will help you to avoid either forgetting about issues or having to deal with a range of problems all at once.

  1. Give them an opportunity to give you feedback

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You might think that you are the world’s best boss. Maybe that is the case, but you should still give your employees a chance to share their thoughts with you after a feedback session. Follow up with them at a later point to make sure they understand what you are looking for, and if you see them doing something right, then praise them.  

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