Giving Feedback: The 2 Things You CAN Say as a Manager

At every speaking engagement Kristen and I have delivered, and in all of our roles before People Spark, we have coached leaders and managers on giving feedback to employees. Typically before our discussions progress, though, the defensive responses we often hear sound like this:

“ I can’t say anything anymore.”

“ This employee isn’t doing what I need him to be doing, but I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Sound familiar? As we thought more about it, there are a few themes that show up from our experience:

  • Managers are concerned that they will say something they shouldn’t. If we step back and look, it’s easy to see how our current societal state has caused leaders and managers to fear something happening to them for addressing a performance concern with an employee. No one likes enjoys having possibly awkward conversations to address a performance issue – but that doesn’t mean the issue shouldn’t be addressed.
  • Managers are concerned the employees will not respond well to the feedback. There are some interesting statistics out there that can make any manager hesitant to provide critical feedback. A 2011 study from PsychTests.com indicated that 13% of participants refused to accept negative feedback, and that 39% felt degraded when someone pointed out their mistakes. Let’s be clear: in many cases, the reactions to constructive or negative feedback come up when the feedback is a surprise. When an employee thinks that their performance is sunshine and unicorns, you saying that if they don’t step up their performance does not compute with the messaging they have been hearing.
  • Managers feel like they have been clear in the feedback.  We have coached many managers who have said that they have provided clear feedback but employees have left the same conversations with very different understandings.  Here, again, is the concern for surprises in the feedback. If you asked your employee to summarize the feedback you just gave them, would they state the same message you intended? Hmmmm….

Behavior + Impact: Your Trusty Framework for ALL Feedback

You have a business to run. To do that, you need your team to clearly understand what’s in-bounds and out-of-bounds for their own performance. We talked about easy ways to reinforce good behavior last week in our post. The same framework applies here, too: Behavior + Impact.

Here’s what I personally love about framing feedback up in Behavior + Impact: In doing this, you allow yourself to take out the emotion of the situation and really get down to the basics. What happened (be clear, state the facts), and what is the impact (what did this decision/behavior cause, and why is it important to change)? Really, that’s all there is to it.


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Our Top 2 Phrases You CAN Say (and we encourage!)

Kristen and I go back and forth as to what phrases we find to be the most valuable for managers delivering feedback. We both have our favorites, and you’ll find out what works with your own style as well.  These phrases help drive the point home and provide more clarity to your feedback.

**Editor’s Note: Please remember that context is everything! If you use any of these phrases and follow it up with “why did you do such a dumb thing” or something similar, these phrases won’t help you out much. Be professional, and be clear about the situation (behavior + impact).

Phrase #1: This is Not Okay

When I have asked managers if they have told the employee that the behavior is not okay, I will often be asked “Can I say that?”.  Yes, you can say this.  In fact, please do.  When combined with the Behavior + Impact, this is a powerful way to let the employee know the expectations and what is not acceptable.  

Phrase #2: Let Me Be Clear

Sometimes when we get into situations where we have to deliver feedback, we tend to dance around the key message because it can be uncomfortable. Sometimes we also say so much before and after the key message, that the heart of the feedback becomes foggy or diluted. In closing out your feedback, use this statement to make bring additional attention to the message to ensure it is delivered. After a difficult discussion with Bob, you can summarize your main message with “Let me be clear, Bob. I expect to see X, Y, and Z stopped immediately. The impact this has had on our business has resulted in ### missed orders, and this cannot continue.”

Bonus Points:

Use both phrases together.  “Let me be clear. This is not okay”. See what just happened there? This statement is intended to get an employee’s attention that something is out-of-bounds and needs to change. It isn’t harsh, it isn’t rude. It is clear, and it can ensure that your message is clearly received.

That’s it. Two phrases you might not be using today that you ARE actually allowed to say (while also remembering the context). Try these out – you just might be surprised to see how much more clearly your message is delivered.

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