Employees might be stressed receiving feedback — but front-line managers are probably who’s really sweating bullets.
Almost 70% of managers say they’re uncomfortable communicating with employees, researchers out of Harvard Business School found. Most of them simply hate giving feedback.
Why we hate giving feedback
More interesting, it’s not just negative feedback that gives managers jitters. Some get anxious having to:
- share their own mistakes
- praise employees for good work
- give the company line
- offer clear directions, or
- credit others for good ideas.
Many managers admit that they’d rather hide behind email or a blank screen on a video call than talk face-to-face with employees. And those fears only intensified during the pandemic when everyone had to work a distance — and could hide behind a computer screen or just skip reviews and feedback altogether.
But giving feedback — and generally communicating with employees — doesn’t have to be a dreaded task.
Here’s help for front-line managers, or anyone who hates the process — five ways to avoid disconnect, miscommunication and making everyone uncomfortable when giving feedback:
1. Be direct and kind
Check your motives before you dive in. If you see and want to explore an opportunity for growth, go ahead.
But if the conversation is meant to make an employee feel wrong – or make you feel superior – put a hold on it. When it’s time to discuss, don’t beat around the bush. Include specific examples of behavior you have seen and changes you want to see.
Ideally, most conversations between bosses and employees – and especially feedback sessions – are meant to spark learning on both sides.
You both end up understanding more about a situation and coming up with a positive way to move forward.
But feedback isn’t just about talking. It’s about listening and gathering feedback, too — and when front-line managers realize that, they can overcome much of their anxiety.
“Employee engagement is staggeringly low at just 21%. The main thing that businesses and their leaders need to do to solve employee disengagement is listen,” says Robert Graham, CEO of Poll Everywhere. “When you take the time to listen to your staff, it makes them feel valued as well as understood. This raises their levels of engagement and drive, which has a positive effect on productivity.”
Once you’ve given examples and shared your thoughts, hear others out before moving forward.
3. Keep it professional
It’s possible to take things personally in what should be a professional, positive discussion. Imagined slights and jabs can turn any situation toxic.
The best way to avoid that is to acknowledge and share feelings.
Telling employees, “I can understand why this irritates you,” is like offering a relief valve for stress they’re feeling.
From your perspective, tell them how a situation made you feel: “You’ve made me happy by reaching goals every quarter this year.” Or “I’m frustrated that you’re missing goals.”
4. Stay present
The end of a tough conversation might still be uncomfortable. But that can’t be an excuse to rush off.
Managers need to remain brave:
- Let moments of silence be. Avoid trying to fill them while employees think
- Let employees decide when the conversation is over, and
- Follow up so afterthoughts are shared and don’t end up creating hurt feelings or imagined issues.
No matter what kind of uncomfortable conversation you have, make sure the direct feedback restores an employee’s confidence.
Share your aspirations for employees and your assurance that they will succeed. Talk about a past win and remind employees of what they did to overcome an obstacle to succeed.
Even better, ask them to identify some strengths and how they’ve used those to succeed. Letting them relive a success can help you all become more comfortable with the feedback.