Constructive feedback is essential to employees’ learning and growth. When the results of an employee’s work are not up to standard, it’s important to explain how and why – and do so in a way the employee can understand and accept, rather than fear and reject.
Here are some of the wrong ways to give constructive feedback to employees, and their more productive alternatives.
Instead of: Focusing on the person
Try: Focusing on the issue
The more times you use the word “you” while giving constructive feedback, the more likely it is the employee will take the feedback personally, instead of understanding it as a comment on the work. “You didn’t finish the report” can easily leave an employee feeling defensive or anxious – emotions that shut down the brain’s ability to learn.
Skip the word “you” by focusing on the work. “The report needs to include a section explaining what our next steps will be” tells the employee exactly where the problem is and how to fix it. It points a path forward that focuses on fixing the report and learning how to write future reports.
Instead of: Pointing out the problem
Try: Pointing out the solution
“This report isn’t finished” focuses on the problem and alerts the employee, but it doesn’t tell the employee how to fix that problem. This not only causes anxiety and uncertainty, it also makes it more likely that the employee’s choice of “fix” won’t actually be a solution. Instead, state what needs to be solved: “Add a section at the end of this report that explains what our next steps will be.”
Instead of: Making it public
Try: Keeping it discreet
Even the best-constructed feedback can make employees feel anxious or defensive if it is given in front of co-workers. When giving feedback to specific employees, keep it between you and the employee. If you want to address an ongoing problem, or one mistake that has been made by several different people, do it without naming any of the individuals who have made the mistake. “I’ve received several reports that did not include a section explaining our next steps. From now on, whenever you write a report, please include the ‘next steps’ section at the end.”
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