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Employee feedback

How to give your team feedback so they actually listen (Yes, it is possible.)

How to give your team feedback.

We've all had those days when we need to talk to our people about missed deadlines, budgets, or quality—but aren't sure where to start. 

Because nobody wants feedback. EVER. 

Always start with asking permission. "I have feedback to provide about xyz, is this a good time?"

So, it can be hard to give feedback that doesn't shut staff down but instead inspires them to deliver their best performance. 

Especially when we'd rather storm in, hurl a few choice words, and storm out. 

Who hasn't secretly wanted to do that? Or DONE that but then paid the consequences with an alienated, uncooperative team? (You would not be the first…)

Constructive feedback may feel harsh and hard to deliver at first—or all too tempting to turn into criticism without the constructive part—but: done right, clear communication is key to a productive, highly-effective team. 

Why is feedback so important? This article from Betterup explains.

Here are my proven tips on giving your team feedback so that they actually USE and GROW from it. (How do I know? These are the very same approaches I use in my interactive Leadership Workshops to create rapid transformation and measurable impact.)


1. Understand your audience.

We each tend to communicate in our own personal style. Very often, misunderstandings or disagreements occur because the speaker's and listener's communication styles are at odds. 

Whether you're talking one-on-one with a higher-up or providing broader feedback in a team meeting, consider the situation from your audience's perspective. 

How might they receive your words? What is their typical response? Thinking through your listener's experience can help you better plan your approach. 

When offering feedback to your entire team, you have to think about how they work together and how your words could either discourage or empower them.

As different as we each are, our personality types, and associated communication styles, tend to fall into four distinct categories. 

In an upcoming series of articles, we'll be diving into each of these categories to equip you with tools for assessing your audience, and recommendations for communicating effectively with each type. 

Hint: All of this applies as much to the written word as it does the spoken—if not more so, without body language and visual cues to facilitate understanding.


2. Create a safe, supportive environment.

Feedback is received well when your team knows they are supported and appreciated no matter what—and that failure is an option! 

It doesn't mean that anything goes, and it doesn't mean you become everyone's friend, or are responsible for making them "feel better." You're still their leader, but you're there to offer support and guide your team to success.

But when you remove the charge and judgment from mistakes and setbacks, and treat them as a normal, natural part of business (which they are), feedback is better received. 

I call this a "fail-forward" environment. It also makes your people more likely to come to you with issues before they turn into a train wreck.

Even if it's a more serious situation with potential consequences if things don't change, you can still create a supportive, open environment, to increase transparency and reduce misunderstandings while arriving at a resolution. 

Embrace the different personalities on your team! That diversity makes your organization smarter and stronger. 


3. Offer context.

Very often, people don't see eye to eye because they don't have the full picture. My recent survey on miscommunication in the workplace found that assumptions or missing context account for nearly three-quarters of communication issues. 

It's like the old story about five blind men meeting an elephant for the first time:

One, running his hand over the elephant's side, thought elephants were like big, warm walls. Another disagreed, wrapping his arms around one of the gentle animal's legs, and proclaiming elephants more like pillars. The man at the trunk thought they were both crazy, and that elephants were more like snakes… 

You get the idea. If your people only have a narrow part of the picture, they will argue vehemently for their perspective, without appreciating how it fits into the whole.

Your job as a leader is to bring people with diverse perspectives and personalities together to help them understand that their experience is a part of the greater whole. 

When people understand the why behind the feedback, they're more apt to understand and receive it.


4. Be positive yet honest.

So, again, leave judgment at the door. 

It's about finding the right balance between encouragement and constructive feedback. 

You may be tempted to give a "feedback sandwich," where you say something positive, offer constructive feedback, and then end on a positive note. It might sound like this: "Jane, in general you are doing a great job, however your last report was missing vital information that the team needed. Please keep up the great work you are doing on the Xenith account."

Sounds easy, so what's the problem with this method? Well, Jane will hear it one of two ways: either "I'm doing a great job" or "something…something…CRITICISM…something else."

Neither interpretation will help you develop your team. They need to hear the truth, but be supported along the way. 

Mary Poppins is wrong: a spoonful of sugar doesn't  help the medicine go down. (Now, if I could just get my hands on one of those bottomless carpet bags…)


5. Reiterate your goals.

Any time you offer feedback, tie it back to your business goals. 

This depersonalizes the feedback. Because truly, it's not personal (or shouldn't be), it's about how the team can best work together to deliver the best possible performance. 

Ask your team what they think is at the root cause of any issues, and their suggestions for getting back toward the shared goal. 

Not everyone responds well at the moment (remember those different communication styles I mentioned?), so allow some time for folks to respond. The more you can get your team involved in the discussion, the better your collaboration and overall engagement will be.


Key takeaways

The best way to give your team feedback is to create a positive environment where everyone can learn from their mistakes and feel supported along the way. 

By keeping things in context and relating feedback to your goals, you can offer valuable insights for your team to incorporate.

Avoid feedback sandwiches. 

If your team is stymied by misunderstandings and disagreements, keep an eye out for my next few articles on personality and communication styles, where I'll give you useful tips on how to recognize the different types and adjust your communication approach accordingly.

For more information on how to communicate effectively, click here.

If this sounds like the exact training you or your managers need to better communicate with your teams, let's talk. Book a complimentary discovery call with me today! 

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