Managers dread providing negative feedback, but employees actually want this more than praise and compliments.
If the idea of giving feedback—particularly if it’s negative—makes you break out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. In at least one survey, 44% of managers say they find this activity to be stressful and/or difficult; and 21% say they just avoid giving feedback altogether. Believe it or not, employees actually want constructive criticism. Some say they prefer corrective feedback over praise and recognition. They suggest that it helps them feel empowered to address critical problems and grow as professionals. Helping your team leaders feel comfortable sharing all kinds of feedback with employees can enhance retention and boost morale.
Taking a few key steps can help managers feel more confident about providing feedback:
- Make feedback organic as part of the workflow. Instead of waiting for a crisis to happen or for an annual performance review, make feedback part of everyday workflow and culture. This will take some effort (remind yourself with emails or Post-It notes), but eventually it will become habit. By doing this, you can identify issues, initiate corrections promptly, and make the feedback feel more constructive than punitive.
- Balance critical with constructive. Be direct and honest to ensure employees understand the importance of your message. However, also be encouraging. Let them know that while they need to do better or make changes, you are there to help and support them. For instance, if someone is constantly coming in late, you can say, “We need you to get here on time. When you’re late, others have to pick up the slack for you; and this is a problem for our residents and your colleagues. If you are having transportation, child care, or other problems, let me know. Perhaps we can work together to solve it.”
- Avoid the “compliment sandwich.” Wedging criticism between two compliments has long been thought to make negative feedback easier to swallow. However, it also sends a mixed message. As a result, neither the compliments nor the criticism may be fully absorbed.
- Ask open-ended questions. Instead of just telling employees what they’ve done or how they need to improve, ask them about the challenges related to the issue at hand. Give them a chance to identify where they could improve and what solutions might be viable. When they feel that you value their input, they are less likely to feel “attacked” and more likely to feel empowered and take ownership of problem-solving.
- Offer support instead of solutions. Clearly, some errors, mistakes, and infractions require a specific solution or correction. For example, a nurse isn’t following a treatment protocol or a CNA is using unsafe lifting procedures or not following hygiene standards. However, for issues such as an employee isn’t getting along with a coworker or procrastinates on routine assignments, consider involving the person in finding a mutually-acceptable solution. Ask about training or education that the person thinks would improve performance and confidence.
- Develop an action plan. This should be specific (clarifying the issue, what is expected, and options for solutions), measurable (with clear parameters to determine if desired results have been achieved), actionable (with specific corrective action the employee is expected to take), realistic (expectations must be reasonable), and time-bound (set a date for a check-in to review progress and determine if any additional action is needed).
Employees thrive when they feel valued and involved. When you make feedback an interactive experience, it is win-win for both the manager and the employee. If managers get cold feet about giving feedback, remind them that even when it’s negative, it lets workers know where they stand and gives them the confidence to prioritize self-improvement and be innovators.