Sometimes you just have to give negative employee feedback. Here's how you do it gracefully
by Justin Reynolds
In our 2017 Employee Engagement Report, we discovered that the intangible aspects of the organization — like culture, interpersonal relationships, and work environment — are the top factors that correlate with employee happiness.
It turns out that people don’t like working at places where everyone’s screaming at each other all the time and laughter is rarely heard.
In order to attract the best candidates and encourage them to stick around for the long haul, many organizations have built positive company cultures. At these companies, employees are encouraged to smile often and compliment their peers on a job well done. Management, too, is always in a chipper mood and recognizes their employees’ hard work regularly.
While it’s great to work at a “happy company,” being too nice — and expecting your employees to conduct themselves similarly — has its major downfalls. You can’t expect your company to reach its full potential if no one ever talks about what’s going wrong or how people could become much more effective in their roles
If your organization is one where everyone plays nice with each other every day, how are you supposed to share negative feedback with your employees?
1. Ask your employees what you can do to improve
First things first: Changing your culture starts with you. Let your employees know that your culture needs to be changed in order to help both the company and your staff reach their goals.
Volunteer to be the guinea pig and go first. Ask your employees which areas they think you could stand to improve in. Ask them what you could do to hold more effective meetings. Ask them what you could do to make their jobs easier.
If members of your team are unlikely to share honest feedback with you because they’re afraid you’ll get mad at them, use pulse surveys that allow them to comment anonymously.
Once you’ve collected their feedback, thank them for their time. Managers have feelings too. Do your best to not take any of the negative feedback you receive to heart. Instead, carefully consider it and make some changes that reflect your employees’ sentiments. That will show your team that you’re serious about instituting a new feedback system.
2. Use thoughtful language to suggest ways your employees can improve
Contrary to what you might think, studies show that employees actually prefer receiving negative feedback from their managers. It makes sense: How else can a worker make it to the next level if nobody ever tells them what they’re doing wrong and how they can improve?
While changing your culture to encourage constructive feedback is a big step in the right direction, that doesn’t mean you should be candid to the point where you hurt your employees’ feelings or talk down to them. Once your employees let you know what they believe you could do to become a better leader, spend some time reviewing each of your workers’ abilities as well as their contributions. Try to figure out how you can convey what they all could be doing better in a positive and wholesome way.
When you have trusting relationships with your employees, it’s much easier to share negative feedback. Be honest, open, and transparent. Never make feedback personal. Whenever possible, try to include some compliments with your constructive criticism. That way, you motivate your employees while simultaneously explaining how they can improve.
3. Prepare to handle and manage misunderstandings
When you try anything new, you’re bound to encounter some hiccups along the way. If you’ve not been in the habit of sharing negative feedback with your team, chances are you won’t be an expert at it right away. That being the case, you’re more than likely to hurt someone’s feelings or create misunderstandings when you’re just starting out.
This is to be expected. In fact, if you don’t experience any misunderstandings, chances are you’re not taking the right approach. Try to remain calm, cool, and collected. Learn from any misunderstandings that arise so that you can avoid them in the future.
4. Apologize if you ever say something the wrong way
While some members of your team may misunderstand your feedback or take it the wrong way, you are likely to experience some growing pains of your own as you adjust to being the purveyor of constructive criticism. If you ever overstep your bounds or say something you come to regret shortly thereafter, own it. Apologize and promise that you will do your best to never make the same mistakes again.
Great leaders are willing to admit when they’re wrong. When you make a mistake and apologize for it, your employees will notice. They’ll respect your honesty.
5. Realize that not every situation requires feedback
If one of your employees is having a spectacularly horrible week — let’s say one of their parents just became seriously ill — don’t call them into your office and tell them what they’re doing wrong. Give them time to adjust to the news.
Similarly, if you’re in a bad mood — maybe you haven’t eaten all day or you didn’t get enough sleep last night — wait until your appetite is satiated and you’re well rested to deliver feedback
Never deliver feedback that is specific to someone’s personality. And don’t criticize someone for hearsay. Build your own cases and offer supporting evidence that backs them up.
6. Continue to tweak your feedback system to make it better
Once you implement your new feedback system, remember that it’s not set in stone. Make adjustments as everyone becomes more familiar with it. That way, your employees will be more receptive to your feedback and your company will become that much stronger as a result.
There’s no such thing as a manager who’s absolutely perfect at delivering feedback. Learn from your experiences. When you weren’t as effective at delivering feedback, figure out what went wrong. When your employees are particularly receptive to your feedback, find out what went right.
Regularly ask your employees for their feedback about your new system. Incorporate their best ideas into it. Continuously refine the system to make sure it’s easy for your team to get the feedback they need to reach their full potential — and give you the feedback you need as well.