Giving and receiving feedback is an essential skill for all managers. By making space to listen and learn from employees, companies can avoid being blindsided by instances of discrimination or misconduct. But when feedback is done wrong (or not done at all), it can create serious problems down the road.
Here are 8 tips to help you give and receive feedback with clarity and care so you can leverage this powerful tool for self-development, career advancement and organizational growth.
1. Don’t wait or withhold
Remember that feedback is only useful when shared, even if you’re feeling unsure about how to share it. Once you know what you’d like to say (see tip #4) remember that avoiding feedback now will make giving feedback more uncomfortable later. Minoritized employees in particular are often given less feedback than their white counterparts, which can impair the ability to feel seen at work and to adapt and advance professionally.
Give feedback that’s frequent and timely so that issues are addressed as they come up. When you are sharing feedback, make sure to engage all employees in the feedback process so they can benefit from your comments.
2. Set the tone and set the time
Getting feedback can feel scary and disorienting, so as a leader it’s important to create an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable. Because of implicit bias, minoritized employees especially tend to be given feedback in ways that feel demoralizing, which can make it more difficult for feedback to be heard and processed in a meaningful way.
Foster a sense of psychological safety by taking the time to privately pull folks aside before offering commentary on their work. Avoid giving unexpected feedback in front of colleagues in a tone that feels condescending or in ways that call into question an employee’s skills and knowledge. Make it clear that the goal of the conversation is support, not criticize them and be sure to embody that intention in your words and actions.
3. Keep things balanced
Feedback doesn’t always have to be negative. Remember that receiving feedback can already be a difficult experience, so you’ll want to avoid offering a laundry list of missteps that make an employee feel like they’re being devalued or micromanaged.
Avoid focusing solely on an employee’s weaknesses while minimizing their strengths and successes. Address what needs to be improved while also creating space to celebrate what they’ve done well and how they’ve contributed positively to the team.
4. Be clear and constructive
Feedback is most effective when it’s clear and concise. When possible, use concrete examples to support your evaluation of their work. Avoid saying things like, “this presentation could have been better” and instead, offer more clear advice like, “I would have loved to see you spend more time on slide 9 with the client.”
Before you have the conversation, take time on your own to think through what you’d like to say. Identify areas of strength or development then brainstorm concrete examples you can use to support your message.
5. Take the first step
As managers we want to assume that we’ve created a safe environment where all employees feel comfortable stepping forward to share their thoughts and concerns…but that’s not always the case. Factors like gaps in positional power may leave employees feeling nervous about airing concerns for fear of retaliation.
To close the positional power gap, it’s important that managers ASK to receive feedback from their employees and intentionally create a space where employees feel safe commenting on your work.
6. Practice self-awareness
Receiving feedback is hard and in the moment you may begin to feel tense, defensive or upset at what you’re hearing. Tuning into your thoughts and feelings will allow you to keep your emotions in check so you can stay open to the important feedback you’re receiving.
Notice your breathing and be intentional about taking deep slow breaths to create a sense of safety in your body. Notice if your body feels tense and do your best to ground yourself by feeling your feet on the floor. Notice any self-judgment that’s coming up and offer yourself self-compassion.
Don’t worry too much about naming your feelings if you can’t immediately identify them, just do your best to stay present while observing these sensations in your body and mind. You’ve got this!
7. Listen deeply
As you listen to your body you may want to begin defending, correcting, educating or comparing to draw attention away from criticism or push back against feedback that feels unfair. But retaliating erodes trust and psychological safety in the feedback process.
As a leader, you set the emotional tone for your team and it’s important that you create a sense of safety so folks feel comfortable coming back with necessary feedback down the line. Resist the urge to interject and instead focus on listening with your whole body and tempering the desire to dominate or derail the conversation. Instead, do your best to listen for feelings beneath the words you’re hearing so you can better understand and validate the speaker’s perspective—this will help them walk away feeling seen and understood.
8. Know your position
Be aware of your positional power and how it feeds into the dynamics of the conversation. Even those with strong awareness can be momentarily swept up in the misuse of power. Positional power can decrease our empathy by making us feel more entitled to assert our perspective and opinions without regard for those “below” us.
Before entering the conversation, consciously step into a mindset of empathy, compassion, generosity and allyship. Get comfortable with the idea of acknowledging how your social identity and privilege may affect your relationships at work with minoritized staff and take the experiences of your employees seriously.
End any feedback conversation by thanking them for their feedback and taking time to process and internalize what was shared.
By learning effective ways to give and receive feedback at work, you put yourself and your employees in a better position to co-create an environment of safety, equity, inclusion and belonging that benefits each individual within the wider organization.
For more on how you can become a better manager and develop skills to transform your workplace into a more equitable environment, join our course Authentic Management: Leading Diverse, High Performance Teams.
Authentic Management – Leading Diverse, High Performance Teams
Dive into management essentials critical to nurturing diverse, high-performing teams including psychological safety, performance feedback, power awareness, time-management as well as general smart practices for leaders.
Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.
Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.