Dear Friends and Clients,

Recently, I’ve enjoyed watching several clients who are having professional growth spurts. The clients are in different organizations and fields, but they have something in common. All are mid-level managers whose careers moved forward once they became better at giving feedback to their colleagues and direct reports.

Because many people are not comfortable receiving feedback on their work, most of us feel some reluctance to give it. But feedback is vital to building professional relationships and encouraging professional growth. And, as my clients illustrate, giving feedback is a learnable and valuable skill.

In this issue I’ll give you some tips on how you can give feedback to others.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Be Constructive --
Give Better Feedback

July 21st, 2009 * Number 107

Do you feel nervous at the thought of giving a performance review or redirecting an unproductive employee? If so, join the crowd. Many people feel shy about commenting on the work of their colleagues.

But if you are a team leader who is reluctant to evaluate others’ performance, you need to get over it. A good flow of information is vital to the creation of a high performing team.

The first and easiest step is to develop the practice of making regular and specific positive comments. Research suggests that people are more likely to be productive if they receive frequent positive reinforcement for the things they do right.

In the classic little guide, “How Full is Your Bucket?”, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton wrote about Gallup research demonstrating that workers who often receive recognition and sincere praise are more productive, engaged and loyal. Rath and Clifton argued that supervisors should make about five positive comments for every negative comment about an employee’s work.

But what happens when the time has come to provide feedback on work that needs improvement? Here are suggestions about how to offer negative feedback that can lead to positive results:
  • Know your goal. Be clear about what you want your comments to accomplish. For example, imagine that your assistant, Joe, failed to book your hotel, which you discovered when you arrived at the reception desk at 10 p.m. When you give him a call, is your intent simply to let off steam, or do you want to put in place a system that will assure that this never happens again?

  • Focus on the behavior. Successful feedback provides information about the work that must be improved, while allowing employees to continue to feel good about themselves and their jobs. Shouting “you’re an idiot” won’t accomplish your goals. Focus specifically on the activities that must be improved, not on the person. And be clear about the outcome you want.

  • Bite the bullet. Sometimes people are so reluctant to deliver a negative message that they talk around the problem, seeking ways to soften the blow. While positive reinforcement is vital, don’t allow it to muddle your message. Issue a clear warning when you are going to focus on an area that needs improvement. Say, for example, “Joe, now let’s talk about ways you can be more helpful in supporting my travel schedule.” Then be direct when you discuss the problem and its impact.

  • Be specific. Give concrete examples and describe the problem behavior in detail. Be precise when you describe the improvement you are seeking.

  • Timing is everything. The most successful feedback – for dogs, children or workers – comes immediately after the behavior. Sometimes, however, you may want to delay a bit in delivering negative reinforcement on the job. If you’re feeling angry with Joe, for example, put off your call until you’ve cooled down.

  • Listen. A feedback discussion should allow for two-way dialogue. Sometimes the most challenging part is biting your tongue and really listening to the employee’s response. You don’t need to get bogged down in a parade of excuses, but at least be open to the possibility of an explanation. For example, perhaps Joe did make the reservation and has the confirmation number to prove it. Or maybe he had a rare bad day when his mother entered the hospital.

  • Plan. If the feedback discussion goes well, it might end with the two of you talking about next steps. Use open questions to start the employee thinking about ways to do things differently. For example, ask Joe, “What do you think you can do to improve our processes?”

  • Define small steps. If the employee has multiple areas that need improvement, don’t try to change everything with one conversation. Focus on one specific activity, set a short-term goal, and plan a series of regular feedback sessions.
Want More Insights Related to Your Work Life? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC.   Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

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