What do you think of when you hear the word “feedback”? Probably annual performance reviews. And difficult conversations with your manager.

But giving feedback is not just an annual event. It’s a constant process and a key development tool for employees in an organization.

Constructive feedback lies at the heart of the relationship between a manager and an employee. It is also a vital part of an employee’s career growth and development. And it provides an opportunity to clarify expectations, point out any problem areas, build confidence, and enable motivation.

Providing an employee with positive feedback is easy enough. Complimenting someone on a job well done is a happy interaction. It bolsters an employee’s confidence and builds a supportive organizational culture.

Negative feedback, on the other hand, is a tricky area to navigate. But it’s equally essential. If people don’t discuss problem areas, they compound over time and become that much tougher to resolve.

Constructive feedback is a happy balance between the two: it helps employees identify their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  And it develops cohesive relationships that are necessary for collaboration.

Developing a system of consistent and constructive feedback will involve some trial and error but the reward will be a culture of transparency, trust, and freedom to critique. Formal meetings are an appropriate way to deliver feedback on a regular basis in addition to annual performance reviews. 

Here are some helpful pointers on the time, place, and method of delivering feedback.

Record Instances, Act Immediately, If Necessary

It is always a good idea to record any behaviors or competencies where feedback is necessary and talk about them at an appropriate time later to help an employee understand how they could have performed better. This helps in identifying patterns in one’s performance and helps evaluate areas that need development. Recording instances allows you to provide insightful and actionable feedback. However, in some instances, it’s best to give feedback immediately after you observe an incident or behavior. Don’t wait to address a bad incident or negative behavior.

Be Clear and Provide Answers

Managers should also provide clear solutions. Simply saying you need to be better at something is not enough. Vague answers are frustrating. Tell employees how they can develop their areas of improvement. Help them create a performance improvement plan. Explain the consequences of their performance on the team and the benefits of improvement not only for them but for the organization as well. By providing clear answers and solutions, you will be able to foster positive relationships. Harappa's Managing Teamwork course will help you learn more about giving constructive feedback using various frameworks.

Pick the Right Time, Place and Method of Delivery

There is a time and place for everything. And that includes feedback. Privacy is important for an open and honest conversation. Also, have these conversations when the stakeholders are in a good frame of mind. Avoid having these conversations after a long day of work as people tend to be less patient and more irritable when they are tired. When you speak and are providing constructive feedback, pay attention to your tone and body language as well as the tone and body language of the person you are speaking with.

Avoid Using Negative Language at All Costs

The language used during feedback sessions is paramount. Don’t use overly critical phrases such as, “You shouldn’t …,” and “I don’t think you are…”. It makes employees defensive and you don’t meet the objective of the feedback session. Always try to be encouraging and nurturing. Try using phrases that start with “Maybe you could try…”, or “Have you considered doing…?”

Use Positive Language to Reinforce Good Behavior and Performance

When you provide an employee with both positive and constructive feedback,  it stimulates their brain and makes them willing to take on new challenges. Try to give at least as much positive feedback as negative. Providing only negative and non-constructive feedback can turn on the threat response in people’s minds and defensiveness may set in. You don’t need to avoid negative feedback altogether, just make it constructive.

Tariq Hazarika is Manager, Operations at Harappa Education. He did a self-designed major in Anthropology, Journalism, and Gender and Women’s Studies, from Knox College in Illinois. He worked in AI research straight out of college and has been working with digital products ever since. 

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