Making Feedback A Positive Experience: 5 Keys To Build Engagement

By Elyse Jarard, Faculty, Chief Mindset Strategist

Feedback has been something I abhor, in any form, unless it is absolutely positive.  I know this is unhealthy, but I also know that I'm not alone. Work experiences in the past have given me much joy, but also much angst in part because feedback was never given well.  

This seems to be one of the hardest things to figure out for managers (including myself), AND it can transform a workplace, relationship, and engagement depending on how good you are at it.

A recent Gallup poll found that only 10.4% of employees who received negative feedback from their manager are engaged and 4 out of 5 of those say they are actively looking for other employment. 

Even in relationships, regardless of whether they are personal or professional, giving feedback can cause tension or create trust, so learning HOW to communicate unmet expectations are important bridge-building skills for anyone, especially leaders. 

It is critical to understand that most people hate the slightest hint of negative feedback for two reasons: 

1) they may have been bullied as a kid, so when they get negative feedback their brains amplify the message.  You say, "I'd like to see you do better at ..." and they hear "You are such a f-up! You are a lazy, good-for-nothing!"  This is a basic neurological response for many people who have a negative inner voice (which affects more people than you can imagine).

2) they think they are doing a great job, so getting negative feedback deflates their sails.  This is usually a symptom of unclear expectations (which is the supervisor's job to set with the employee).  

It is also essential to understand HOW to give good feedback so everyone continues to be engaged.  When feedback comes in the form of coaching, it can be transformative for everyone.  

Here are 5 ways to change feedback into a positive experience.

  • Have conversations WEEKLY.  Meaningful conversations about the work that is being done is beneficial for lots of reasons, such as: 
  1. creates accountability
  2. prevents big misses
  3. builds trust and rapport
  4. provides opportunity for continuous professional growth and coaching

This may seem like a daunting task when you manage a lot of people, however it will pay off, so make the time to connect weekly. 

  • ASK what is going well.  Getting them to tell you gives you perspective about how they feel about the situation.  It also indicates to you how much trust you have with them.  Can they share with you that they are struggling with something? 
  • Start with WINS. You should acknowledge what is going well.  It's easy to only focus on what needs to be done, or what needs to be fixed, however skipping wins and going straight to deficits creates a lack, problem-focused mindset instead of a solution-focused one.  
  • ASK what struggles are you facing?  This is an opportunity to find out what they need to be more successful.  Again, this gives you perspective about their point of view and as their leader, you can assess that in guiding their success. 
  • Handle mistakes and missteps as learning opportunities.  COACH them.  Many times, we know when we screw up, but sometimes we don't.  Approaching these situations as a coach empowers the employee to take responsibility and learn, instead of feeling embarrassed and denigrated.  The more trust that is built along the way, the easier this will be. 

Annual and semi-annual reviews should be focused on "big picture" goals (personal and professional), professional development opportunities, and a conversation on opportunities to be better, not because there is a deficit, but because that is a value you share.  Ask if you can help them stay accountable to their goals through the year.  

When feedback feels more like coaching, everyone benefits and life at work is a lot more pleasant. 

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