Career Advice

5 Reasons Your Feedback Is Hurting, Not Helping

Young businessmen in trouble

Feedback is an important tool for managers and leaders to help employees grow. It’s also something employee want. A 2016 Clutch survey found that 68 percent of employees who receive accurate and consistent feedback feel fulfilled in their jobs.

There are two important words in that statement: accurate and consistent. Not all feedback can be described as such, which is just one of the many reasons it often hurts, rather than helps. When giving feedback to your employees, keep the following tips in mind to ensure it’s both heard and helpful.

It’s Too Critical

“Don’t take it personally” doesn’t take away the sting of critical feedback. Why? “That’s because hearing critical feedback strikes at the heart of two core human needs—the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way we are. Consequently, even a gentle suggestion to do something differently can leave us feeling wounded,” explains Margie Warrell, leadership expert for Forbes.

To avoid being too critical, use these tips from Emma Seppala, Ph.D:

  • Give more positive than negative feedback. Use an age-old tactic like the compliment sandwich—good, bad, good.
  • Focus on their strengths to “create excellence” rather than their weakness, which “drives competence.”
  • Emphasize collaboration and and commonalities, staying objective. “Describe the problematic situation (rather than evaluating it), identify objective consequences or your personal feelings associated with it (rather than placing blame); and suggest acceptable alternatives (rather than arguing about who is right or at fault).”

You Don’t Have a “Why”

Your feedback needs to be specific for it to be effective. This not only helps the person on the receiving end, giving them a clear idea of what they need to do to improve, but allows you to be thorough and better prepared.

“Are you trying to acknowledge someone’s good work? Identify behaviors you’d like the person to change? Or share how he or she ranks compared to the rest of the team? When you know the ‘why’ behind your feedback, you’ll be able to better organize your thoughts, your message, and the conversation,” says Lea McLeod, with The Muse.

Create a templated a “pre-feedback sheet.” This can be used by leaders and managers, even employees doing peer reviews, to structure the information and meeting. With an outline and a plan, it’s easier to stay focused in both preparation and execution.

You Aren’t Delivering Effectively

Instead of assuming everyone wants to get feedback face-to-face, survey the employees you manage to get an idea of how they’d like to receive the information. For introverted people, feedback via online chat or email may be easier to take than in person. If the person is too nervous, they’ll have a hard time digesting and absorbing the information, rendering it useless.

If you have too many employees to learn and remember each of their preferences, poll your team about what format they prefer. Give the top two group preferences as an option for every feedback meeting. For example, if you need to speak with someone, you might email and say, “I want to give some feedback on your last project. Would you prefer via email or in-person?”

This extra step may take time, but your feedback will resonate better with each employee when it’s received in a way that’s most impactful for them.

Your Timing is Off

For feedback to be effective, it needs to be given in a timely fashion—when it makes sense for the employee: “If it’s not delivered at the right time, the value of the message depreciates. Think of praise and encouragement. Even they lose their effect, if delayed. So, when is the right time? It’s simple: when people need to hear it,” says Emilia Bratu, COO and Co-Founder of Hubgets.

One way to ensure feedback is timely, is to keep it consistent with weekly feedback meetings with all employees that you manage. This ensures that there’s an opportunity to provide timely feedback each week. It also gives employees a chance to ask for feedback and advice on a regular basis, despite your busy schedule.

There’s No Accountability or Support

Feedback without an action is just criticism. If you want employees to improve based on feedback, there needs to be two things: accountability and support. The two work hand-in-hand to make your feedback effective and useful.

For example, when the meeting is done, ask how the employee believes he or she can improve to get back on track and make a plan together. The plan can be as simple as, “I will ask you if I’m uncertain about giving a discount, rather than making the judgement myself.” By letting them come up with the plan, they’re empowered to hold themselves accountable.

You then need to support their plan by providing further accountability and offering to help as needed. You can provide that support in a number of ways, the easiest being a weekly check-in to make sure your employee is sticking with it.

Start Giving Better Feedback

Feedback is important, so make it effective. When you have a plan, a “why” and a way to support the employee while holding them accountable, you help employees grow—rather than simply hurting their feelings. Use these tips next time you need to provide an employee with feedback to be sure you’re heard and they find value in it.


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