How to Give an Employee Feedback (Without Inspiring Hate)

November 6, 2017

Here are 11 tips for handling the conversation you have when giving employee feedback.

There are many quotes on the importance of feedback, including ones from Elon Musk and Bill Gates. But my favorite comes from author Hugh Prather.

“Negative feedback is better than none,” Prather said. “I would rather have a man hate me than overlook me.”

I think a lot of people can relate to that. The only thing worse than getting negative feedback is getting no feedback at all – it makes you feel like your work doesn’t matter.

But what stops managers from giving feedback?

A few things, but mostly because they don’t really know how to give good feedback, and they think they are going to hurt the other person’s feelings if they do.

So, they avoid it at all costs.

Well, it’s time for that to stop. As Prather said, most people want feedback. It’s just about giving it in the right way.

11 tips to follow when giving an employee feedback

Leadership guru and LinkedIn Learning Instructor Todd Dewett, in his course Managing Employee Performance Problems, gave detailed advice on giving good feedback. In a previous article, we described the characteristics of good feedback.

This article covers the next step. Here are Dewett’s 11 tips for handling the actual feedback conversation.

They are:

    1. Plan the conversation.

You don’t need to plan out every single word you are going to say. But, before meeting with the employee, lay out the specific points you want to make and the outcome you are hoping to achieve.

    2. Control the meeting context.

This means picking a time and a location that works best for both of you. For location, that means a private conference room you can talk openly. For time, it means when they aren’t busy, which is generally later in the day.

    3. Minimize the distractions.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone was in the middle of giving you constructive feedback and stopped to answer a text message. I’m going to guess you probably wouldn't like that.

When having this conversation, put the phone away, close the laptop and close the door to the room you’re in, so no one bothers you.

    4. State that you want to understand and help the person (and mean it).

This is key. The goal of this conversation isn’t to pass blame, but to develop the employee. Commit to that before speaking with them and then state that in the beginning of the meeting.

Tell them, this isn't about putting you down. It's about figuring out a solution and getting better.

    5. Focus on the issue, not the person.

A big mistake when providing feedback is saying the person is lazy or passive aggressive or any other personal critique. All that’s going to do is turn the person off and potentially get them emotional – and rightfully so.

Instead, focus on their performance, and be specific. The more specific you can be, the easier it is to deal with and ultimately find a solution to.

    6. Keep emotions in check by talking about them.

First off, you shouldn’t get emotional in this conversation, period. But, if the employee starts to get emotional, call it out. Tell them that they look upset if they start getting upset – just pointing it out often makes the person more self-aware and address it.

    7. Ask questions to gain understanding.

This goes back to the fourth tip. Your goal isn’t to yell at them for doing something wrong. Instead, it’s about asking questions to understand what happened and then actively listening so you can help them fix it.

So, rather than coming to the meeting with your own version of what’s wrong, listen to their story and discover why it’s not working for them.

    8. Don’t allow blame to come into the conversation.

When giving someone feedback, don't accept blame as an excuse. If someone starts blaming someone, redirect the employee to what they control. Have them focus on the processes they need to change or perhaps the skills they need to improve.

    9. Know when to end the conversation.

Ideally, you get to a state where you reach an outcome and then the person has clear marching orders on what to do next. But the world doesn’t always work that way – sometimes people become highly emotional.

In those rare cases, it’s better to table the conversation a day or so, after they calm down. 

    10. Watch for signs they are shutting down.

Some people tend to get emotional when having difficult conversations. Others have the opposite response – they shut down and retreat into themselves. If you see this happening, coax them into conversation if you can.

But, most likely, at this point they’ve hit their limit. Instead of continuing the conversation, it's better to summarize what’s happened and then follow up in a day or two.

    11. Seek commitment to the outcome.

What the conversation is all about. Unless emotions get out-of-control, you want to come out with some solution both you and the employee can agree on.

This provides a clear action plan for the employee. And you want to be specific here – not, communicate better. Instead, have the employee to agree to wait a day before sending out a charged email, for example.

The takeaway

All employees need feedback. Most want feedback. And, if you are a manager, it’s your obligation to give feedback, both for your employees' sake and the organization’s sake.

The reason most of us don’t give that feedback is not for them, but for us. We want to be liked and that desire to be liked trumps what’s best for everyone else involved.

It’s time to stop that. By following the listed tips, that fear should diminish and you’ll give good feedback.

And, ultimately, your team will respect you more.  

Want to learn more about how to give constructive feedback, as well as playbooks for dealing with specific types of difficult employees? Watch Dewett’s full course,  Managing Employee Performance Problems.