Sinclair Stevenson

Leadership Assessment Consultant

Cornwall, United Kingdom

Bucharest, Romania

+44 (741) 596-8390



How to Give Critical Feedback

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How to Give Critical Feedback

So often, we hear how important it is to give critical feedback to your team and yet so few managers do this as part of a supportive and developmental process. Yes… sure there are many times when subordinates are shouted at for doing something wrong but I am talking about one to one meetings, appraisal sessions  –  maybe when you and your subordinate are just travelling to a client.

The reason, so often, is that people simply do not know how to do this effectively  –  and so, rather than put themselves into an uncomfortable or difficult situation, they do not do it at all. It is, of course, much easier to provide positive feedback and, therefore, instead of being given a true and honest picture of their performance, subordinates are only told how wonderful they are. They leave the office, feeling certain that a promotion or pay rise is about to come their way, and when this does not materialise, they feel disappointed, trust is lost and the relationship is in a worse place than when it started.

How should one, therefore, give difficult feedback. First of all, not in front of everyone else! This just makes the person feel small and unvalued as well as embarrassing them in front of their colleagues. A leader needs to aim for a positive and committed relationship with their staff and this is not going to happen if they are criticised in front of their peers. So choose a time when you can focus and the environment is private.

When giving feedback, be authentic and genuine. Give the facts as you see them and describe the impact on you and the potential consequences. For example, “When writing the report, you made many spelling errors. This lessens the credibility we have with our customers, making it less likely that they will buy from us, reducing our profits. It also made me feel that I could not trust you to write these yourself..”.

Take the opportunity to turn the negative into a positive by focusing on how to change the behaviour or improve the skill. Ideally, this should form part of an Individual Development Plan. The person will then be more committed to make the necessary changes and also feel supported in their career development. Motivation will be higher and, as we know, with higher motivation comes greater productivity and creativity  –  as well as a happier and more focused team.

So, when giving feedback, follow these steps:

State the purpose of the meeting (“I would like to give you feedback on that report that you wrote…”)

State what you liked about what the situation or what the person does well.

State what they did wrong and the consequences of it for yourself and the business.

Invite a response from the team member.

Focus on what the person needs to do to improve, making it future focused and explaining the benefits that will occur to them.

Obtain agreement, smile and tell them that they are valued.

By following these steps, the person will know they need to change their behaviour, they will be committed to doing so and they are also likely to feel valued as you have also given feedback which focuses not only on the negative but also on the positive. Good luck in making it happen!

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