How do you tell someone they’re doing something wrong without making them feel bad? It’s not an easy task to give feedback, especially in the workplace, but it’s necessary if you want to get the most out of your employees and improve your overall business. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to make giving feedback easier, so read on to learn how to give tough conversations in the workplace with style and grace.
1.) Understand Your Purpose
As you decide to deliver a piece of feedback, keep these main points in mind: (1) your purpose is to help, not punish; (2) you need to understand how important it is that you deliver your message effectively; and (3) as hard as it might be, you need to give constructive criticism rather than simply giving feedback. Tough conversations are not easy to have, but they can improve relationships at work—and at home. Start by understanding your purpose.
2.) Prepare Yourself
One of biggest reasons people avoid giving feedback is because they don’t feel prepared to have a tough conversation. Being prepared can help you have better conversations and will make it easier to give—and receive—critical feedback. Here are seven ways to prepare yourself before giving negative feedback. (Don’t forget: positive feedback doesn’t require as much preparation.)
While it’s important to feel prepared, don’t overthink things. Most feedback conversations should be fairly short—around 15 minutes at most. The more you think about giving feedback, and how to give it, the more stressful it will be. Instead of thinking too much about giving feedback, focus on what you want to say and how you want to say it. If a conversation does go longer than planned, that’s okay!
3.) Know Your Audience
By understanding who you’re addressing, you can tailor your words accordingly. Before tackling a tough conversation, consider what is going to be most effective for both parties: if you need to address a sensitive topic, having direct and honest communication is probably your best bet. If more leeway and openness would help both parties learn from each other’s mistakes, try phrasing things as suggestions rather than orders.
No matter what you decide, it’s important to maintain a supportive tone. It may feel harsh or difficult to give feedback that you know will upset someone else, but remember that you’re trying to help your team members grow and improve. Even if they don’t like how you communicated your ideas at first, they should be able to look back on conversations and appreciate constructive criticism if it ultimately helps them learn and succeed. As a bonus, people are more likely to listen when they feel heard.
4.) Be Direct and Specific
The most common advice that people give when it comes to giving feedback is to be direct and specific. Although that seems like good advice, it’s not as useful as you might think. Direct and specific are not metrics, meaning there isn’t really a way to tell if you are being direct and specific enough. At times, less is more; other times, more is more.
The key to giving helpful feedback is knowing how much to say. If you have a lot of feedback to give, break it up into smaller chunks. Likewise, if you are just going to point out one or two things, make sure they’re big-impact items. The middle ground is not where you want to be; aim for specific and useful on one end or broad and vague on the other.
5.) ASK for Feedback if it is NOT Provided to you
Whether it’s a meeting with your boss or a weekly one-on-one, you should always take the opportunity to ask how you can improve. People are often afraid of appearing incompetent or weak, so they do not speak up. However, asking others how they think you can improve shows that you care about your career and want to be given constructive feedback. It also helps strengthen relationships at work by showing that you trust your colleagues to provide useful insights into your performance and work style.
6.) If you are Provided with Feedback, Be OPEN
Listening to someone’s feedback can be difficult, particularly if it’s critical. However, it is important to remember that everyone wants you to succeed and do your best. People care about you and have your best interests at heart, even if they are not exactly sure how to tell you what they think. When someone gives you feedback, take a few moments and listen before reacting so that you can better understand their perspective.
7.) Don’t take Things Personally
Whether it’s constructive feedback from a supervisor or negative feedback from a client, an important part of learning how to have tough conversations is realizing that you don’t need to take things personally. Some feedback may feel like an attack, but remember that many people are unaware of their own shortcomings and simply aren’t sure how to give constructive criticism.
If you’re having a tough conversation with your supervisor, try not to react defensively. Instead, take some time to listen and understand why your supervisor is giving you feedback, as well as what they want you to do about it. It’s important to remember that although constructive criticism can be hurtful, it shouldn’t be personal.