I have written about feedback previously during the three years of this leadership newsletter, but I am doing so again today because it is a very important subject for leaders at all experience levels and in all industries.

I was reminded of this issue again this week when a friend spoke to me about her discomfort with giving tough feedback to a teammate who “tries hard” and “has a good attitude.” Her comments reminded me of several truths about feedback.

Some people have given feedback a bad name. They think feedback is a synonym for criticism. That is a misperception. Feedback can be both positive reinforcement or constructive criticism. And it is not an either/or occurrence. It can be a both/and conversation. Smart leaders include both positive comments and critical comments in meaningful feedback conversations.

Another reality is that some leaders feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback. They are not sure how to deliver it so the teammate really hears it. They are fearful of hurting that teammate’s feelings. They worry that it will detrimentally affect the colleague’s morale. Preparing to give and then offering critical feedback takes them out of their comfort zones, where they prefer to reside.

These leaders are mistaken. When they do not deliver the constructive criticism feedback, they are hurting two people: themselves and the teammate. They are detracting from their own effectiveness as leaders because the lack of feedback will mean they are doomed to see the same employee behavior again and/or they will have to do the work themselves. They are hurting the colleague who needs to hear the feedback because they are robbing him or her of an opportunity to grow. Feedback given in the correct manner at the right time helps colleagues learn. Without that feedback, there is a strong likelihood they will repeat the errors or behaviors in the future.

So what can leaders do to deliver the right kind of feedback at the best possible time? Here are several tips that have worked for me and for other leaders with whom I have spoken:

-We want our teammates to really hear and act on the feedback, so we need to gain their trust first

-If we get to know our colleagues, we can link our feedback to their career aspirations and goals

-We ought to make feedback a regular part of our team culture rather than delivering feedback only when someone does something wrong

-We err when we delay in giving feedback, especially constructive criticism; it has the greatest impact when it is given as soon as possible after an event

-Leaders sometimes strive to deliver too much feedback, positive or negative, at one time – remember that teammates can only absorb so much information, so be choosy about the feedback you wish to deliver

-Feedback will not have any impact unless the leader follows up on it – so make sure you check in with your teammates later to determine how they are incorporating the feedback into their routines, their interactions and their thought patterns

-Make sure to always include something positive, even when you are delivering constructive criticism – we all tend to be less defensive and better listeners when we hear some positive feedback

-Focus on the behavior or decision, never on the people themselves – no one enjoys hearing their personality criticized, and it hurts your role as a leader

-Make sure when offering constructive criticism to include suggestions for how the teammates can improve or enhance their chance for success next time

-Keep in mind that that any feedback interaction with your teammates ought to be a conversation, not a lecture – ask your teammates for their own opinions about what has transpired or what is occurring going forward

Please remember – giving good feedback at the right time is an essential part of every leader’s tool kit. It will help you, it will help your colleague, and it will help your overall team!

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