One of the key tasks in managing people is providing them with feedback. It reminds them that they are accountable for the job they do and allows them to know where they stand. Research has shown that feedback is a vital element in employee engagement.
Many managers and supervisors avoid giving feedback to the people working for them. They worry they will lose control of the situation and it will turn into a “yes you are – no I’m NOT” argument, putting them in a weak position or otherwise forcing them to be aggressive.
The paradox with this is that when you avoid giving feedback, others do see you as weak or ineffective. Fortunately there are a few simple ways to help you stay in control of the situation.
1. Balance your feedback by starting with something positive
This can be useful because it helps to break down their assumption that you are ‘against’ them. It helps them to see you as someone who is on their side and has a balanced and fair view of who they are. This helps them to be more relaxed and less defensive.
2. Give specific examples of things they did or did not do
Labelling someone in a general way tells them that you think the whole person is a lost cause! This is one of the reasons they will ignore your feedback – it is too hard to know where to start and what to fix. When you give them specific feedback about their actions it is easier for them to accept because they know what to fix.
It is also useful to use specifics when discussing a person with another manager. This ensures you both have a clear understanding of the issue.
This also applies to positive feedback. “You’re great” doesn’t have as much impact or stick in someone’s mind as long as the more specific: “You really churned through the work today and I know the rest of the team appreciated hearing back from you so quickly”.
3. Don’t be drawn into debate
Sometimes people will insist on asking ‘who told you?’ or ‘how do you know that’s true?’ The problem with this is that it sucks you into an argument. It is a skill that takes practice but this can be managed by calmly stating that you are not going to get into a discussion about it.
It is important to note that giving someone feedback on how they are doing is different to discipline eg. a warning letter or some sort of sanction. Feedback tends to be one way – ‘for you information only’, whereas disciplinary discussions must establish the facts and allow all parties to be heard.