Company-to-employee feedback comes in many forms, but the most common and direct way to communicate performance evaluations comes in the form of criticism. Although today this term has come to connote a negative message, I’m using it in its broader definition, which encompasses both negative and positive responses.
Where the nuance of criticism gets muddy is in its conceptualization as a motivational tool. Not everyone receives criticism the same way and these days it doesn’t take much to actually offend peoples’ sensibilities if you handle feedback without a certain degree of tact.
Being honest and blunt is one thing, but it’s easy for employers to cross into malicious territory simply through choices of syntax and delivery.
This should not however stop you from engaging in giving feedback when it’s necessary. Although a degree of delicacy and consideration may be necessary, truly dedicated employees should value direct feedback as a means of reorienting themselves to better contribute to the organization. At a somewhat subconscious level, honest feedback fosters an environment of trust between employees and their employers.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when communicating criticism is necessary:
Get right to the point, don’t dance around the details
If you opt to provide feedback face to face, you can count on the employee to come into the session with a natural level of anxiety. Because the process can be unnerving to many, it’s helpful to lessen the stress by distilling your talking points down to the brass tacks.
Saying more with less is a skill that should be applied to every communicative process, but clarity and conciseness are essential if you count on your words to be digested and understood.
Usually the more you say, the more convoluted your message becomes, thus distracting from your main points. The best rule of thumb is to plan these sessions in advance with a written outline for reference. Consider what points you want them to walk out with the most and make those central to your discussion.
Combine your feedback with their goals
Offering criticism without a useful frame of reference defeats the purpose of offering it in the first place. This doesn’t mean fitting it into only the company’s frame of reference, but also the employee’s.
If every desired outcome results in something he or she has little or no stake in, the motivation to change behavior is lost. Make it known that they are genuinely invested in the results of their actions and that their input is equally valuable to the company. Including their goals into the equation will make them much more open to suggestions regardless of how they feel about the company and its larger goals.
Foster an environment for self-criticism
No matter how much criticism a team member ought to receive, these events should not be grilling sessions where a list of grievances are aired to a captive audience. Instead of coming at it from a reprimanding attitude, describe how their actions and behaviors are viewed from an objective standpoint rather than a subjective one.
For example, if you happen to be offering feedback to a copywriter who is lagging behind in his or her workload expectations, instead of illustrating the issue by talking about how much more stress it gives you as a manager, zoom out and diagnose the problem from a systematic perspective. Perhaps without quality copy being ready to publish, the graphic design team is stalled in their efforts to apply it to images. This then prevents the web team from implementing new elements to the site on time.
This kind of description can give a much more employee-centric lens from which to look at their productivity and role relative to everyone else.
Conduct your sessions in a neutral environment
The setting you choose to give feedback in can have a major impact on how your message is consumed and understood. Obviously a person who is led into a damp basement cellar lit by a bare light bulb is not going to open up to constructive criticism like they would in a bright, comfortable, open space.
But besides obvious visual cues are aspects such as social versus private settings. For this kind of feedback, avoid grouping people together and calling on individuals in front of one another.
Not only is this degrading to the individual in question, but can also be uncomfortable for the rest of the group. No one likes to cringe with secondhand embarrassment when their coworkers are called out in front of them.
You can also neutralize potentially stressful or awkward situations with tasteful, appropriate humor. Build rapport and disarm the tension with personal stories about your own stumbles in the past or offer some refreshments to make the conversation as casual as possible.
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