Feedback conversations are often stressful but don’t need to be. They can be instructive and motivational when managers come prepared.
Supervisors often are filled with anxiety leading up to a feedback session, because they are uncertain about what to say, they are unsure of the words to use, and they don’t know how the discussion will unfold. Those are not reasons to avoid the conversation, because feedback is essential for an employee’s performance and for her well-being. Supervisors need to take the lead to ensure that the discussion is productive.
Here are a few suggestions for managers to improve performance and build trust:
Give feedback consistently – It all starts with providing the information people need each day to do their jobs to the best of their ability. That will help lead to a satisfying performance conversation.
Prepare for the discussion – Gather abundant information from multiple sources, so that you have all the facts, from different points of view. Ask a lot of questions.
Rehearse – Write down the topics you want to discuss and the points you want to make, and put them in the order you want to talk about them. Think about what the person’s responses might be. Don’t try to memorize your notes or you will sound mechanical, but you also don’t want to manage the conversation as you go. When we try to think and respond spontaneously, we sometimes stumble along and say things in ways we didn’t intend.
Provide specific explanations – Managers who are concerned about hurting someone’s feelings will sometimes try to soften the blow by giving an ambiguous answer. An employee needs to know specifically how his or her actions affected the outcome, how they affected peers, and what change in behavior is necessary.
Maintain your composure – If a person becomes annoyed or defensive at hearing unpleasant information, remain calm and speak in a neutral tone so that you keep the conversation in balance.
Convey your point as a question — Rather than telling the person what he needs to do, try asking him, What do you think about … ? The question often contains an implied suggestion, and the employee is apt to be more receptive when it is presented that way, rather than as a directive.