How to Share Feedback Without Alienating Your Employees

As a manager, delivering feedback is one of your most important jobs. 

Constructive / coaching feedback keeps employees on task and helps them to develop into great assets for your company, as well as helping them improve their skills.

But delivering feedback is a challenge for many business owners. It forces you to walk a fine line—because you don’t want to offend your employees. (I’ve upset my share of employees, particularly in my early days in business, so I understand that this is a real fear.)

Often, business owners put the confrontation off to a “later date”—which may or may not ever arrive. 

But avoiding the issues only makes it worse—because when you fail to confront an employee about unacceptable behavior, you are validating it. The employee is aware that you witnessed his behavior, and because you didn’t say anything about it, he assumes that it is acceptable. This can start a chain reaction, and next thing you know, most of your team will be adopting bad habits. Don’t let poor behavior go unanswered – address it as soon as possible so that it doesn’t spread. 

Think of it this way – would you rather put out the fire now, while it’s small and relatively tame? Or do you want to put it out six months from now, once it has spread and become impossible to control?

Again, I know it’s not easy. But here are some tips that will help:

Focus on positives as well as negatives. If your feedback is always negative, your employees will either start to tune you out, or they’ll become discouraged. Acknowledge the positives as well as any negatives, and make it clear that you appreciate the hard work your employees are putting in. In particular, make sure you end the conversation on a positive note.

Provide action steps that go along with your feedback. Be specific – don’t beat around the bush and don’t be vague. Tell your employees precisely what you have observed and what you would like to see happen. By the end of the conversation, the employee should precisely understand your expectations and how to deliver on them. 

Help your employees see the big picture. Don’t just tell employees what to do, tell them why it is important. Help them see the purpose behind their actions. This way, they don’t feel like they are spinning their wheels in vain. Even more valuably, once employees begin to grasp the big picture, they’ll begin to self-correct, because they’ve grasped the connection between their actions and the goals of your business.

Giving feedback can be unpleasant. But it’s something that has to be done, and the longer you wait, the worse the problem becomes. 

In your experience, has sharing feedback with your employees been difficult? Do you have any horror stories to share? What are some of your tricks for making the process go smoothly?