Constructive Feedback Delivery

Leaders in employment settings inevitably have a need to offer constructive feedback. Although, the manner in which the individual responds to our coaching will depend largely on the person’s perception and personality, comparative to our perspective and delivery style. However, there are other variables, of course, that may also influence the dynamics.

Factors including interpersonal communication skills, combined with confidence, self-esteem, and previous experiences will also affect the response. Further, considering the environment and time of day is an important variable that may influence the outcome.

A critical factor that contributes to the individual’s reaction is the presentation of the constructive feedback. Fortunately, this is a variable that we control. The delivery can impact whether the person can hear, process, and accept the shared information.

Mastering the presentation of constructive feedback is necessary for us to perfect, and practice!

Certainly, when effectively presented, constructive feedback has the opportunity to positively change and shape behavior, which is a win:win for all of us. However, it is equally capable of creating resentment, anger, denial and influencing future performance or attitude concerns. No one wins in this scenario; thus, mastery of this skill is essential.

A 7 Step Guide To Deliver Constructive Feedback

  1. Focus on the behavior. Only say what is true and be factual. Do not make it personal!
  • “Jan, you were 30 minutes late today, and you did not call me, as policy requires.”

  1. The tone of delivery should be low and firm, but not authoritarian, reproachful or sarcastic. Our tone should command attention, and encourage ownership and a desire to correct behavior, not alienate or promote a defensive reaction.
  • “I know that you understand, your tardiness prevented ‘Lorrie’ from leaving on time and created overtime expense.”

  1. Be Specific and clearly state the expectations.
  • “I depend on you to be here as scheduled, and your team relies on your punctuality. If you are going to be tardy, I expect you to call me in advance so that we can arrange coverage.”

  1. Keep emotions out of it. Emotions kindle reactionary responses. Speak calmly, slowly and at an even pace. Leave any anger outside the door. Mask all nonverbal communication; this is often visible through facial tension, voice changes and fidgeting or gestures. Instead, take some slow deep breaths, and walk rapidly down the hallway. Or, run up and down the stairwell a few times (and smile!) to release any pent up emotions and tension before starting this meeting.

  2. Remain focused, brief and avoid small talk. This is a situation where less language has more impact, and the use of silence can be powerful. There is no need to sandwich this feedback in with positives unless the positives are related to this particular job performance. If we plan to deliver some positives, then it is best to offer them at the end, not before. If delivered before, it tends to be forgotten as they will listen and hear the negative, not the positive.
  • “Your tardiness negatively affects your co-workers and the workload, and I know you understand that can’t happen again. The bigger issue is not communicating that you would be late so that we could implement an alternative coverage plan.You have been very responsible this last year and have never been late before. I recognize and appreciate that and understand we all encounter conflicts on occasion.”

  1. State what we know; don’t ask questions that may contradict that as it only sets up conflict and places the individual into a position of defending himself if he gives an answer different than what we know. If he was 30 minutes late, do not ask him what time he arrived; we already know this.

  2. Be confident in the delivery, but do so in a personable, open manner. Our goal is not to intimidate, shame or blame the person. Rather, our goal is to bring awareness to a performance concern with a plan for correction to prevent recurrence. Our goal is to accomplish this by maintaining respect, professionalism, and an approachable demeanor. We do not want to alienate the person or embarrass him.

Preparation Improves Communication and Our Ability to Offer Empathy

Following years of supervisory experience, I can definitively state that delivering challenging feedback is never enjoyable. It is always made easier, however, when I prepare for the meeting, and exercise empathy. Understandably, when I picture myself sitting in their chair, it enables me to share the information in a manner that I would want it shared with me.  I encourage practicing this!

Many research articles and books on communication state that the great majority of communication is vocally and visually conveyed– through our pitch, rate, volume and our non-verbal body language. Very little is communicated by the actual words we use!

Saying less is saying more, many communication experts will advise. Choosing our words carefully while being extremely cognizant of the way we deliver those words is essential. We can look at providing difficult feedback as an opportunity for constructive coaching to shape the person’s work habits or skills to what is needed for that position.Surely, it has the potential to be a win:win for all!

Privacy and Environment – 2 Crucial Factors for Success

Delivering constructive coaching needs to be done privately.  When setting up the meeting, an important consideration is being cognizant of the time, and whether co-workers or others will be in the area and aware.

Next, environment is also crucial.  While meeting privately in the office is certainly acceptable, meeting in a more relaxed off-site location may be better in some situations.  An alternative environment can minimize defensiveness and enable the employee to better receive the coaching. This may also preserve pride and dignity, or minimize fear of co-workers being aware.  Meeting over a coffee or tea in a public shop may be all it takes to influence a positive outcome.

Despite our great efforts to ensure privacy and confidentiality, employee teams often figure things out. What is crucial is that they do not hear from us any type of performance concern, or infer it in context of what we share, or do not share – verbally or non-verbally.  Yet, often teams do seem to know; sometimes the employee will share this information with their peers.  Notably, what is most important is that this information is not shared by us, nor inferred by anything we say or do, verbally or non-verbally.

The Positive Lining – Yep, There is Always a Positive!

The positive lining is employee teams respect a leader who addresses and resolves issues.  They value when a supervisor sets expectations and then follows through, fairly and objectively for all.  This type of follow through from us demonstrates to them, and to the employee we coached, that we care about them. This results in increased engagement from employees, as they feel supported and know that we are also invested.

In my experience, respect is built on trust.  When employees are assured of follow through, consistency and fairness in approach, and objective, professional and empathetic approaches, respect is earned.  When teams experience positive, inclusive and personable communication and interactions, trust and corresponding respect are developed.  Forbes often shares valuable articles we can learn from.  This article addresses key skills and discusses these topics, including conflict management.  You can click here to read the article.

When I reflect on the supervisors and other leaders that I most enjoyed working with and respected, I can quickly identify a common thread among them.  What is it?  Each possessed a composure and confidence achieved through focused self growth and learning.  They used available resources to study and they faced challenges as a learning opportunity. They were capable of addressing challenging situations and providing constructive feedback.

Resources and Opportunity for Self Growth

An opportunity for self growth and reflection is available here on Diane Kubes’ Leadership Circle within the Freebies page. There are free greeting cards to recognize others, as well as assessment tools for supervisors and for employees.  You can check them out here at this link!

I set aside significant time each week for self-learning study and practice.  A partial listing of resources I find useful for learning as well as for my daily work is available within Diane Kubes’ Leadership Circle; I add to this as I find helpful resources to share. I invite you to take a peek here!

Have you had to deliver challenging feedback? What are some of your tips for doing this effectively? I would love to hear what has worked for you.  Leadership excellence is based upon experience and learning from others; please share your experiences in the comments below.  To Your Success!

Filed Under: CommunicationLeadership and Teambuilding

← 3 Common-Sense Ways to Build Teamwork

6 Tips To Become An Inspired Leader with High Emotional Intelligence →

2 Responses to 7 Step Guide to Deliver Negative Feedback

  1. Bethsays:

May 26, 2016 at 10:19 pm Edit

Hey Diane, I’m working on my tone. I’ve been in leadership for most of my life but sometimes I come across as condescending when I give feedback. I think if I ask more pointed questions to my audience to determine where they are at, that would help. What do you think? Any suggestions here?


May 27, 2016 at 11:44 pm Edit

Hi Beth,
Getting more info on their perception/understanding is often helpful as this shared understanding gives you a base from which to begin. Then, if you are able to identify an experience that provides a common connection – maybe a time when you made a similar error or experienced similar confusion – that will serve to minimize any sense of condescension from you, and defensiveness from him/her – and instead enhance your rapport. Yes, tone is a tricky thing often perfected with mindful awareness & practice! Wishing you success!

Positive constructive feedback delivered with empathy and respect leads to leadership excellence
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

Constructive Feedback leads to leadership excellence

Pin It on Pinterest