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How to give difficult feedback

The best training I had in managing people was from a manager that was terrible. He had a tough time communicating and despite my desire for constructive feedback, he could not articulate anything useful. When I began managing people and I had to give difficult, negative or constructive feedback, I’d think back to my time with this manager who was poor at his job. I’d think, wouldn’t I want straight forward feedback? And the answer was always, absolutely yes. I’d want to know where my blind spots were, how others perceived me and how I can improve. As a manager, it is your job to provide this information. But more importantly, it is your job to provide this information in a constructive and actionable way.

Start by asking your employee what they think.

  • How do you feel things are going?

  • What do you think might help?

  • How can we support you?

Then, you can provide the constructive criticism by using the following language:

  • When you do X, it is perceived as Y.

  • For example: When you interrupt others, you are perceived as not listening or disrespectful.

  • For example: It seems that hitting deadlines has been hard to do recently. What do you attribute that to?

If you notice, this approach is about a dialogue between the manager and the employee. It is not about stating things to the employee. It is instead, about helping the employee understand how they are perceived and asking for their perspective. It is also about asking them for their participation in the solution. As the manager, you do not have to have all the answers. Many times, it is the employee that has the best solution. So be sure to include them in the solution.

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