There are a million rules for giving feedback. At one end of the spectrum, people spend hours on a phone call reviewing their team’s performance. They discuss and rehash every small mistake, belittle their accomplishments and credit others in their comments. At the other end, professionals use criteria on performance reviews that might include how many people they hired, how long the project took, and how many times a positive action was demonstrated.
While those two extremes are enough to doom good interpersonal communication in organizations, perhaps someone is missing the forest for the trees. You, as a leader, need to embody a spirit of kindness and compassion while still providing appropriate feedback. While the stakes are high, it’s never too late to follow the ten best pieces of guidance.
1. Go on a date with your manager. This is the best way to foster closeness with someone you don’t get along with much. Your boss is, after all, the person responsible for overseeing your work and helping you learn from your mistakes. If you’re not sure where to start with a conversation, take each other on a tour of your company.
2. Give your boss an F. Being constructive and fair will keep you and your boss healthy. Agree with your boss when she gets it right. Don’t agree with her when she’s wrong. Feel free to give your boss a hard time when she’s sending your organization backwards. (Think about it! Maybe someone is ignoring a task that you think is important, so you say something about it.) As a leader, you can do this, and it’s not just your employees who will benefit.
3. Show some compassion. It’s your job to serve your people. If a manager makes a comment like, “I could make more money and be more productive if I do this or that,” you should know that she has the same financial problems you do. The only difference is that you have more empathy for someone who has struggled with the same issue in the past. Her hard work and dedication matters.
4. Ask for feedback. Ask your employees if they have ideas for improving your organization and then give them a chance to share. They’ll love the opportunity to advocate for their work and ideas to improve the company. They’ll also be comfortable telling you their opinions about how to change something. You have an open line of communication with your staff and you can learn more from them. If your staff has ideas for improvement and you aren’t ready to implement them, then it’s probably not your own performance that’s an issue. Your staff’s ideas are better.
5. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Your focus should be on the future. Present the best work you can do in the present while using your team to help you achieve your goals. When you’re in a positive mood, it’s easy to be ruthless with people. You want your team to work to help you get results, not discourage you by focusing on what you can’t do.
6. Want to do a great job? Do the hard work first. It’s so tempting to say, “Make us proud!” instead of starting with a meaningful project or a development of the strategy, but ask, “How will this make the organization better?” Next time someone says, “Let’s go for a run!” instead of saying, “We should be strengthening your mental state,” take a deep breath and say, “I need to go through this first.”
7. Be genuine. Don’t make up compliments and try to portray someone you’re not. If you think someone is difficult, but they don’t, just tell them. There is no need to belittle or carry on.
8. Be willing to listen. Your staff is only as good as you make them feel. They are going to complain. But when someone talks to you sincerely, they often respond with sincere interest.
9. Celebrate success. You’ll get the most out of them if you let them see you’re on their side. Celebrate a great outcome or achievement. Give managers more latitude to share good news.
10. Listen. Part of your mission is to build up their confidence in the ability to succeed. It’s not a motivational tool — you’re better off when you’re understanding and kind.