Give Convincing Feedback to Employees

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on June 1, 2011

Most of us can remember times in which we were called into our supervisor’s office to receive gruff feedback, as well as times when we were given feedback in a way that inspired professional development and growth. Though it’s fairly obvious the second approach works better, providing quality feedback that prompts a change in behavior is not always so easy:
1. Sticks and carrots both work. Positive and negative feedback, when used in a timely and balanced fashion, can more quickly shape behavior than simply positive or negative feedback alone. Negative feedback can help employees quickly course-correct and get on the right path. Employees want to know they are on the right track, and if they are not, then they want to be told. Additionally, research suggests this can’t be a 1-to-1 ratio of positive and negative feedback. Rather, a 3-to-1 or even 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative is what is required to help employees feel like you have their best interests at heart.

2. Present the feedback neutrally. Feedback is merely information. The way information is presented often results in meaning being assigned by the receiver. If you take the approach that feedback, even the negative kind, is just information, it can be easier to take the emotion out of a difficult conversation and focus on making effective course corrections that will ultimately benefit your organization and the employee.

3. Be specific and focused. Feedback is often better received when it is specifically related to how someone’s performance affected the team, the result, or something else. Additionally, focus on one area of feedback—don’t jump around from topic to topic. If there are multiple issues, bring them up at different times rather than saddling employees with myriad issues they must work on. The more focused the feedback, the more likely change is to occur.

John H. Zenger
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder
Zenger Folkman
Orem, Utah

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