Employee feedback can be a bit of a minefield. On the one hand, employees need constructive feedback to grow and improve.
However, giving and receiving evaluations can be awkward, uncomfortable, and downright unpleasant for everyone involved.
It’s no surprise then that 44% of managers say delivering criticism is stressful and 21% of them admit they avoid giving feedback altogether.
But shying away from sharing feedback robs both managers and their teams of learning opportunities. Plus, when done right, giving feedback improves performance, job fulfillment, engagement, productivity, and retention.
These eight tips will help you navigate your way through this potential minefield and deliver effective employee feedback. Let’s get started.
Best Employee Feedback Tips
1. Provide frequent, timely notes.
Don’t wait around for a scheduled performance review to give employee feedback. Instead, share critiques, suggestions, and advice in real-time.
While you can certainly set aside specific times to give feedback, waiting six to twelve months can be problematic for several reasons.
For one, it doesn’t give people timely opportunities to make changes or improve their performance. And what may be a minor issue now could become a major obstacle if the problem isn’t addressed immediately.
Delivering feedback so rarely can also hinder progress because people may be defensive when their mistakes or shortcomings are pointed out months or years later.
Plus, annual or semi-annual assessments can be challenging for the reviewer as well because you have to rely on memory when providing feedback. This further complicates things because of distance bias, which essentially means that more recent events are fresher in the reviewer’s mind.
In other words, the employee’s performance in the previous week may have a greater impact on their review than their performance over the entire year, creating an unjust feedback system.
2. Give employee feedback in person.
Whenever possible, share both constructive criticism and praise when you’re face to face.
Ninety percent of communication is nonverbal, involving tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, body language, and more. So it’s easy for a message to get lost or misinterpreted if the recipient has to rely on written communication alone.
Speaking in person allows for both parties to glean additional context from the conversation.
For example, hearing a manager’s empathetic tone can soften the blow of a critique, or seeing a team member’s confused expression could clue a manager in that they need to be more clear in their delivery.
Delivering employee feedback in person can be difficult for remote workers, but you can set up time to talk via video conference so that everyone in the conversation can benefit from seeing and hearing nonverbal cues.
3. Consider power imbalances and unconscious biases.
It’s difficult to give someone feedback even when you’re on equal footing, but when one of you holds a senior position — such as a manager with the power to hire and fire — it can further complicate the employee feedback dynamic.
Lower-level employees may not feel comfortable challenging feedback they find unfair, for example.
And there are more influences at play than just power alone because we all have unconscious biases.
You may have preconceptions about team members based on race, gender, and more. For example, a manager may assume that a male employee is more assertive, making it easier to recall instances when he took charge.
Similarity biases also exist, making us more likely to have an affinity for people we consider to be like ourselves. For example, an employee who reminds a manager of a younger version of herself may inadvertently receive better reviews or coaching opportunities.
It’s also important to evaluate employees on more than just your opinion alone. Instead, use multiple sources to assess them, including managers, colleagues, and reports.
4. Give praise first.
One of the reasons employee feedback is so difficult to receive is because our brains are wired to remember negative comments and experiences more than positive ones. So start off your conversation by telling the employee what they do well or what you appreciate about their work.
Be specific and genuine in your praise. For example, instead of saying, “You did a great job,” try, “I appreciate the work you’ve done on this report. It’s clear you’re an expert on the topic.”
Sixty-three percent of employees say they don’t receive enough praise, and Deloitte research has found that employees who go unrecognized are more engaged and have 31% lower voluntary turnover.
Plus, leading with appreciation makes employees more receptive to constructive criticism.
5. Be specific.
If there’s a matter that needs to be addressed, use clear, precise language to describe the problem, give examples, and explain why it’s a problem.
For example, instead of telling an employee that they’re inconsiderate to their colleagues, mention a specific instance.
You could say, “During Tuesday’s meeting, Susan tried to speak up, but you interrupted her several times. We want everyone to feel comfortable sharing ideas.”
When you’re specific, your message is more likely to be received and understood.
6. Practice empathy.
Before delivering employee feedback, take a moment to think about how your colleague might feel during your talk. Consider their background and experience and try to understand their unique perspective.
For example, if you plan to discuss an employee’s recent missed deadlines, examine what factors may have contributed to them. What other tasks are on the employee’s plate? What might be going on in their personal life?
Also, how might this person feel when you provide your feedback?
When you meet with the employee, communicate that you’re giving feedback to help them grow and because you want them to succeed. Starting off on this positive, empathetic note will put the employee at ease and help them be more open and receptive to your notes.
It can also be useful to ask questions before diving into employee feedback.
Queries like “How did that go?,” “What did you think of the meeting?,” and “What have you learned from working on this project?” can give you valuable insights and help you tap into empathy.
These questions can also make giving and receiving feedback easier on both of you because the employee might voice the very concerns you plan to discuss.
7. Frame employee feedback as advice.
People tend to provide more useful information and suggestions when they focus on giving advice instead of feedback, according to Harvard research.
Why? Because feedback emphasizes how an employee has performed in the past, while advice focuses on providing constructive information for the future.
In other words, try to deliver feedback with suggestions for future improvement instead of simply evaluating past actions.
8. Ask for key takeaways.
You may have heard that it’s best to sandwich criticism in between praise and compliments. However, this technique can come off as insincere.
Instead of ending your talk with a generic “Keep up the good work,” or “Thanks for all you do,” ask the employee to share the specific takeaways they’re leaving the conversation with.
This will ensure that your feedback was understood. It’ll also give you the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings or reassure the employee if they seem to have an overly negative view of your feedback.
Recognize your employees with EveryoneSocial
While you’ll want to save criticism for private employee feedback talks, you can use a platform like EveryoneSocial to regularly give recognition and praise.
This won’t only increase employee engagement, but it’ll also boost productivity. In fact, 69% of people say they’d work harder if their efforts were better recognized.
See how EveryoneSocial can help your team. Book a demo today!