How To Give Employees Feedback

By Amanda Covaleski - Jan. 20, 2021

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While we might not think about it, we’re always looking for feedback. Maybe you need a friend to read over a cover letter before you hit send, or you just want a second opinion before you buy a new jacket. No matter what the situation is, personal or professional, getting feedback is key to improving and making the right decisions.

Think back to when you were in the early stages of your career. You wouldn’t have made it where you are today without the help of your first mentors and supervisors.

Even today, you probably look for your superiors or coworkers’ opinions to keep you on track. When you’re in charge of a team, the responsibility for providing feedback falls on you.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the importance of giving your employees good feedback and how you can do it. Keep reading, and you’ll be well-equipped to support your team and their professional growth.

Your Feedback Has an Impact When Provided Respectfully and With Care

The most important thing when it comes to giving feedback is doing so in a respectful manner.

Think about times you’ve gotten feedback. You probably have fonder memories of the times when your supervisor gave you constructive criticism with kindness, rather than remembering times when you were just criticized for your work.

While feedback can be positive or negative, it’s imperative to keep negative feedback kind and respectful. Think about what your employee could reasonably improve upon and how you can frame it in a caring way instead of criticizing something in a demeaning way.

At the end of the day, you’re providing your teammates with feedback so they can improve their work. Giving positive feedback is great as a confidence booster and letting people know you appreciate their work. Negative feedback is to help people strengthen their skills and become a better worker.

Any constructive criticism will be met with more willingness to improve and listen when it comes from a place of care and respect, rather than a mean or disapproving spirit. You want your employees to be receptive to your feedback, so keeping your tone and words polite and respectful is always the way to go.

Provide Feedback That Has an Impact

Everyone knows the saying, “treat others the way you want to be treated,” which is especially true for giving feedback. The best feedback you can provide is impactful and actionable. This is where treating others with kindness comes in. You want your feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, to have a positive impact on your employee.

Giving kind and respectful feedback will leave a better impression than feedback that isn’t well-intentioned. You want to motivate your employees with your input and inspire them to improve instead of discouraging them with a mountain of criticism.

It’s also essential to ensure that your feedback is reasonably attainable for whoever you’re giving it to. Maybe you want to help an employee with poor communication skills, and you need them to share their progress with you more frequently.

Instead of telling them that their communication could use some improvement, you can give them something more concrete, attainable, and actionable.

Instead, saying that you appreciate it when they update you on their project progress and you would like to see it more can leave a bigger impact on the employee.

Here’s How You Can Best Provide Feedback

People often think it can be hard to receive criticism, but often it is just as hard to be the one giving the criticism. You don’t want to be too harsh on someone, but you also don’t want to be too lenient where your feedback doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

To avoid either of these situations, you need to walk a fine line between positive and negative feedback while also taking personalities and emotions into account.

Here are a few tips to make sure you’re providing the best feedback you can:

  • Create a conversation. Whenever you’re giving feedback, whoever you’re talking to should be an active participant. Instead of running through your list of praises and critiques with them, you should engage them in a conversation.

    Ask them questions about what they think they’re best at or what they want to improve and see how it lines up with your evaluation.

    Bringing the recipient of your feedback into the discussion will prove to be more fruitful for both of you as you learn more about the employee, their motivations, and their self-assessment.

  • Let people ask for feedback. While we all want feedback on our work, knowing when to give it is just as important as how you give it. Many employees receive feedback that they regard as unhelpful because it was unsolicited.

    It’s best to give your commentary after an employee asks for it. Sometimes you can’t wait until someone asks you for feedback, but letting an employee drive the conversation can be more helpful in the long term.

  • Keep it private. You should always have conversations about performance in private. No matter what you have to say to your employee, talking to them in private will be much better than being in public.

    It shows your employee that you respect them, and it becomes a much more collaborative conversation than if you were to praise them or critique them in front of their colleagues.

  • Measure your critiques. Think about when you receive criticism. You’re probably a bit upset after you hear something negative about yourself, which is completely normal.

    Similarly, your employees will probably have a slightly negative reaction to any critiques you give them. So, before you give them any negative feedback, you should weigh the pros and cons.

    Do you want them to correct something so minor it’s not worth putting them in a bad mood for? Or is it something big that merits bringing it to your employee’s attention?

  • Be compassionate. Everyone has been in situations where they’ve felt belittled or looked down upon. That’s not the goal of employee feedback at all.

    Bringing compassion to your conversation will allow you to put yourself in your employee’s shoes and help you keep your feedback useful and inspirational. Kindness will help your message sink in better than blunt honesty.

  • Get specific. In some cases, broad feedback can be useful, but people generally respond better to specific and detailed comments. Instead of telling an employee that they’re a good team player, telling them how you appreciated their willingness to step in and lead a team or mediate an issue between coworkers will go over better.

    The same goes for constructive criticism, and you should always look for specific feedback instead of generalized comments.

  • Critique actions. One of the most difficult parts of giving criticism is keeping it about actions rather than personality. It can be easy to critique an employee’s behavior and personality instead of their actions, but you need to focus on their performance.

    This will make the criticism less about who they are and instead what they do, which is easier to handle. Instead of chastising an employee for their disrespect of deadlines, reframe your critique to be about how they always turn in projects late.

  • Follow up. Whether your conversation goes extremely well, or there were some road bumps, you should always follow up with your employee.

    Take the time to reiterate the positives you talked about and leave an open line of communication in case they have questions or comments about your feedback. This will help you keep tabs on their improvement and help them feel that they can come to you for advice.

What Is an Employee Performance Review?

Each company handles employee reviews differently, but typically they’re a meeting between a supervisor and an employee to discuss how the employee’s work has been, including a discussion of their strengths and where there’s room for improvement.

Performance reviews are used to give employees opportunities for growth and discuss what the employee’s goals are, as well as giving time to discuss career opportunities like raises or promotions.

Depending on the performance review’s goal, such as a regular check-in, salary adjustment, or promotion discussion, the review can cover different topics.

Usually, you should let your employee know what you want to cover ahead of time, so you don’t catch them off guard with your conversation.

The Importance of Regular Employee Performance Evaluations

One of the golden rules of employee performance reviews is that you shouldn’t bring up any surprising feedback.

The best managers are always talking to their employees, informally reviewing their performance, and giving feedback. When it comes time to sit down for a formal performance review, none of your comments should catch your employee completely off guard.

For example, say an employee has had issues with meeting deadlines. You should have brought this up to them as soon as it was flagged with an issue, and the performance review can be a chance to check up on their timeliness or discuss the matter in depth. The performance review shouldn’t be the first time that they’re criticized for their tardiness.

Keeping a constant line of communication for feedback is key to creating a friendly work environment and providing opportunities for personal and professional growth. Giving employees feedback when you have it (instead of holding onto it for formal reviews) gives them a chance to respond directly to your feedback and start improving on it.

This practice can also prevent small issues from snowballing into huge problems. Take the example of an employee who has trouble meeting deadlines again.

Letting them know that you need reports turned in by their due date immediately can help the employee stay on track, whereas waiting to give them that criticism could result in the employee falling behind on weeks of work if it’s not addressed immediately.

Employee Performance Evaluation Sample

One tip that lots of employers use for feedback is the sandwich method. With this, you use two positive pieces of feedback and one negative to balance everything out.

You compliment the employee on something they do well, then give them criticism, then end with another compliment. This prevents any kind of discouragement or making the employee feel like there’s an overload of negative comments on their work. Here’s an example:

I want to start by saying that I really appreciate your open and constant communication. Your weekly updates are extremely helpful for me since I get a feel for your weekly progress, how the team is working, and where your sticking points are.

It makes it much easier to help you and the team get past the sticking points when I hear about them each week, so I really appreciate the weekly updates.

One thing I’d like you to keep in mind for the future is that it’s important to make sure client-facing documents are handed in on time. Internal documents, like the client analyses, are less important since it’s usually just me looking at them, but external documents that are going to the clients, like proposals or analytics reports, need to get sent over by our internal due date.

We promise these clients documents on those days, and that’s the service they’re paying for, so we need to adhere to our dates. If it helps, you can prioritize getting those external documents done before working on the internal ones. Is there anything that is preventing you from getting documents handed over on time?

Something else I want to mention is that James mentioned how great your leadership has been on the Client 1 team. I’ve noticed it too, and I just want to let you know that everyone is very impressed by your natural leadership talent.

James loves how easy-to-reach you are and that you’re always around for advice and opinions. Keep up the great work; I’d love to see you step into more leadership roles in the future. How are you liking your work as a team leader?

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Amanda Covaleski

Amanda is a writer with experience in various industries, including travel, real estate, and career advice. After taking on internships and entry-level jobs, she is familiar with the job search process and landing that crucial first job. Included in her experience is work at an employer/intern matching startup where she marketed an intern database to employers and supported college interns looking for work experience.

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