How To Deliver Feedback Without Sounding Like A Jerk

One of the toughest parts of being a manager is delivering constructive feedback to your employees. You have to strike a delicate balance between putting them on the defensive, and being so vague that your feedback doesn’t sink in.

How do you make sure your feedback gets heard – and taken to heart?

Much depends on your delivery, and on establishing a trust between yourself and your employees. If you can convey the message with respect and demonstrate that you have your employee’s best interest in mind, he or she will be a lot more likely to listen and respond.

Speak in private

It’s hard enough to receive feedback without hearing it in front of a group – especially if the feedback is of a more sensitive nature. The problem with public criticism is that your employee will most likely remember how embarrassed they were, rather than on the message you were trying to get across.

Speaking in private gives you both the chance to be more open and honest than you would be in public.

Ask for permission

Blindsiding a subordinate with feedback – both positive or negative – puts them on the defensive right away. Instead, try asking if they have a minute to hear you out. That gives them a second to get in the right mindset.

A quick caveat: Don’t use the dreaded “Do you have time to discuss your performance at 3pm this afternoon?” technique. Even if you plan to deliver good feedback, your employee will have worked themselves into believing the worst by the time you meet.

Be specific

Offering feedback on a concrete problem keeps your feedback from being misconstrued, and also makes it harder for your employee to argue with what they’re hearing. Instead of saying something vague, like “It doesn’t seem like you’re putting much effort into your job,” try to point out specific things that make you think that, like your subordinate is late frequently, or hasn’t been meeting deadlines.

Don’t judge

Along the same lines, be sure to keep the conversation about observable behavioral facts rather than making judgement calls on the type of person they are. Instead of remarking that your employee is an organizational wreck, try something along the lines of, “I noticed you’ve misplaced three incoming applications in the last week. Can we work together on a system for incoming work?”

Put it into context

Sometimes, helping your employee see how his or her behavior is affecting the organization as a whole can help drive home the need to change. Put your feedback in context by pointing out the direct impact their behavior had. Again, be as specific as possible.

Frame feedback as your opinion

Using statements like “I noticed” or “Your behavior made me feel” can help soften the blow of negative feedback, and can make it easier for the recipient to hear and accept. It helps frame the feedback session as a conversation rather than a debate, and leaves room for constructive discussion.

Work together to find a solution

Hopefully if you’ve done a good job at delivering the feedback, at this point your employee is on board with what you had to say. Now’s the time to come up with a plan for going forward. It’s better if you can both work together, so that your subordinate feels like they have control over the situation and their behavior. Otherwise, they may end up working against the solution, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Always approach the feedback session as though it’s you and your subordinate working together against a common problem, rather than as though the two of you are adversaries. In the long run that’s the more effective way to gain your employee’s buy-in and solve the problem for good.

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David Carr

great advice. I wish more managers knew these. I have seen poor treatment of workers over the years by jerky managers who saw nothing wrong with what they did.