My first tip is to use self-directed feedback, which means that you ask the team member to first evaluate their own performance. You can for instance say: "Can we have a conversation about the client meeting we just had? I think it’s important that we’re aligned. What did you notice about your performance in the meeting? What did you like about what you did? If you could do it again, what would you do differently?"
Asking these questions gives the team member a chance to reflect on their behaviour and it opens up the conversation. As most of us are our own worst critic, the team member is likely to highlight the very behaviour you wanted to address, which saves you from doing it. After the team member’s response, you will get the opportunity to express your own view at a time when the team member is ready to listen to it.
Give layered feedback
My next tip is to give “sandwiched” feedback, so that any negative comments are mixed in with something positive. If you only focus on the negatives you can easily demotivate the team member. You have to build up people’s self esteem as it gives them energy and confidence to change. When you give sandwiched – or layered – feedback you first emphasize something the person is doing really well. Secondly you talk about an element they can improve on, and thirdly you finish off with a positive point. We all like to know what we’re doing well. But your praise must be honest and well deserved. If you just add a few superficial positive comments to tone down the negative feedback, they will have no effect at all. You can layer your message this way: "What I liked was... Can I suggest something you might do differently?..
You are always so good at ..."
Be specific and give examples
When you give your feedback, be specific about what you think the team member is doing well and what you would like to see changed. If you’re too generic, for instance by saying, “That was great” or “That didn’t really work for me”, the team member won’t know how to improve. If they knew, they would have already done it. It would be more helpful if you said “Your report gives some good facts and figures on page three. I think it would benefit from being more succinct, especially in section one. Perhaps you could do that by adding a few graphs and charts.”
As you talk about specific situations, be as constructive as possible and emphasize what behaviours the recipient can change going forward. It can be unhelpful to say: “You have to stop saying yes to the client all the time." In its place say: "Can I suggest that instead of saying yes when the client asks for a change, you carry out an impact analysis and propose 3 options in your response.”
Create an open dialogue
Another tip is that you should always give the team member the chance to express their views and react to your comments. In order for your feedback to be taken on board you have to manage the emotional side and create a safe space for them to speak their mind. Giving sandwiched feedback will help, but also ask them: “What do you feel about what I just said? What else are you thinking?” Remember that the purpose of your feedback should always be to help the team member improve rather than just criticizing them.
On that note, feedback doesn’t have to have a negative angle at all. You can keep your team members motivated by acknowledging all the things they are doing well. Give positive feedback as often as you can and immediately after you have observed something great. Remember that your comments must be well deserved as otherwise they will lose their importance.
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