The Top 3 Mistakes Managers Make When Giving Feedback

The Pitfalls of Giving Feedback

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)

In this second article on feedback, I will dwell on a few core aspects of a successful performance appraisal discussion by mentioning what are in my view the top 3 mistakes feedback providers make. There are sadly more than 3 but getting those right will go a long way!

Mistake #1: sugar-coating negative feedback (or the ‘Oreo Cookie’ problem)

In the preceding article, I mentioned the importance of setting the scene. One way to get off to a good start is by making a positive comment even if the rest of the feedback is going to be negative. This is because even the poorest performer has some capability, a talent to celebrate. It shows the feedback recipient that the feedback provider is able to see performance from a multiplicity of angles. Otherwise the recipient could think that the provider is just out to get them and simply ignore the feedback.

The problem with this approach however is that, too often, managers err in one of two ways. First, they are disingenuous when giving the positive feedback. Not only is such an approach insincere but it is my personal conviction that people see through this kind of tactics and will only serve to ruin any basis for trust, creating a poor basis for a constructive exchange.

In addition, the manager who is concerned about hurting their team member could simply water down the feedback. This leads to confusion as the employee has no chance to come to grips with the issue and usually leads to further problems down the line when the employee does not understand their compensation and fails to improve their performance.

Mistake #2: generalising feedback

As I mentioned in the previous article, while it is well known that feedback ought to be specific, the fact is that, more often than not, managers give feedback without specifying the instances that led them to reach their conclusion. Feedback becomes so vague that recipients are unable to understand what the point is and the risk is that the negative comments are taken personally, creating resentment and other negative feelings which in turn destroy trust. 

In truth, it is important to give factual specifics around the performance problem. A crucial element when characterising poor performance: always rate the task, never the person. It is never going to be particularly comfortable for someone to hear that their report was ‘inadequate’ but it would be offensive to call them so. So imagine yourself in a court of law where you have to use clear and tangible evidence to prove to a group of jurors that the task was not completed as expected.

A third element to consider when making feedback specific is to communicate though clear “I statements” which underline that you are conveying your opinion and that you are comfortable with the conclusions you reached from your objective evaluation of the performance. Do not hide behind anonymous others (e.g. “People say…”) or make use of the passive voice (e.g. “One could think…”). You may of course mention others’ feedback too but be prepared to explain why you agree with their views. Whatever its original source, you ‘own’ your feedback.

Mistake #3: offering solutions rather than support

Managers too frequently believe that their team members cannot solve their problems on their own. While this may be done in a positive, constructive spirit, giving solutions strips the feedback recipient from the chance to reflect about the issue and considering their own way forward. It is belittling and may cause resentment. It will in any event stifle personal development.

If your concern, as a manager but also as a colleague, is for both the individual and the firm, then you will want to include in your feedback discussion mention of the help from which the person could benefit in order to address their poor performance. I encourage you to offer suggestions rather than ready-made solutions. Discuss a training course which might be useful. Assistance from others could also make sense. Be clear about where the support will come from, in particular if you will be personally involved. Finally, the person needs to demonstrate commitment to following up on the support they will receive.

I am hopeful that these few tips will be helpful to you in preparing and running your appraisal meetings. These are crucial moments with your team members.

If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.

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