It can be difficult to give constructive feedback to your team at the best of times, but during times like these (bet you’ve heard that phrase a lot lately), it can be a bit trickier. People might already be on edge, or might be worried that if they receive negative feedback that they might be losing their jobs. So how can you give feedback to the team in a constructive and empathetic way?
Tailor your approach
It would be a lot easier if there was just a one-size-fits-all approach to giving feedback, but if you really want to get through and encourage growth, you need to tailor your feedback to the person you’re dealing with. Everyone handles criticism differently, so it’s important to consider that before you go ahead and have that chat. If you know someone works better when pushed a little harder, you can do that, but if someone else in the team gets nervous or unmotivated with a very direct approach, you’ll need to soften it a bit.
Although you might want to soften the blow a bit, you also need to make sure you’re still getting your message across. There’s no point even having a feedback session if your team is going to walk away without a clear idea of what you want or what they need to do moving forward. You might have heard of the feedback sandwich, where you begin with the bread (some positive feedback), then the meat (negative feedback) and then finish with some more bread and positivity. This is great, but sometimes the actual important critiques can get lost in amongst all that bread so keep that in mind.
Create an action plan
Before you even get into the nitty gritty of the feedback, have some action points in place that your team member can get into right away. These should be a mix of short and long term actions so they don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to make a lot of big changes at once. Before you let them know these steps, you could also ask them what they think needs to be done about a particular issue – if the idea is coming from them, they’ll be much more likely to actually take that action and you’ll feel less like the bad guy.
This might be a new concept to you, but ‘feeding forward’ can be a great approach to take, particularly if the person you’re giving feedback to tends to be defensive or argumentative. Feeding forward is a more future-focused way of thinking that discusses goals for the future rather than dwells on judgements of past events. It tends to be more positive, and includes action steps to take for the future that are focused on growth, and not on past mistakes.
Giving feedback is a chance for you to let your team know where things might need to improve, but it’s also a chance for you to listen to how they are perceiving and managing things on their end. What looks like someone doing a crap job to you might actually be someone struggling with a workload that’s too heavy, or having issues at home. If you can listen properly without judgement, you’ll learn a lot about your team and how there might be some things you need to improve on too – after all, feedback really is a two-way street.