Constructive feedback can be received in a range of ways; some people are open to it, while others resist it or deny it entirely. In the workplace, constructive feedback is a necessity for helping employees improve their strengths and address weak points. One study found that employees actually prefer corrective feedback to praise and recognition. Despite the value of constructive feedback, research shows that delivering feedback is a struggle for many managers, and some avoid it entirely. In two related surveys, 44 percent of managers said that giving constructive feedback was stressful, and 21 percent said they avoid giving critical feedback altogether.
It is possible to deliver actionable, constructive employee feedback, and there are a range of options and resources that can help any manager have more productive, less stressful discussions with the team. Here are some of the best ways to incorporate constructive feedback into employee one-on-ones:
1. Introduce automated employee feedback software
Employee feedback software automates the feedback solicitation and delivery process, making it easier to collect and share feedback with employees. A software solution gathers and organizes employee ratings and comments in a seamless, timely manner, ensuring that the passage of time doesn’t dilute the impact of the feedback. In addition, employee feedback software gives the manager and employee full dashboard access to feedback reports, facilitating a healthier, more productive discussion about ways to make improvements.
One of the challenges of giving constructive feedback is that the individual on the receiving end may brush off the feedback as manager bias, or “just one person’s opinion.” Employee feedback software maximizes the validity and accuracy of feedback by drawing input from multiple raters. With an automated solution, employees receive 280- or 360-degree constructive feedback from multiple raters instead of the manager alone, which helps drive home the necessity to accept and act on the feedback.
2. Provide coaching
Coaching empowers employees to improve. It guides their behavior rather than simply telling them what they’re doing wrong. When you manage and coach your employees, one-on-ones become more fruitful and productive. Research on effective manager-coaches has found that coaching not only improves employee performance, but it also helps managers establish better connections with employees and supports healthy employee development.
Coaching can be incorporated into regularly scheduled one-on-one discussions, ultimately giving employees a wider range of options for addressing feedback from their manager or peers. Managers who coach aren’t just delivering feedback; they are also providing support and ideas that will help the employee identify solutions and change their behavior. Some examples of how coaching can be introduced into one-on-one discussions include:
- Asking employees open-ended questions about a specific challenge to get them thinking about possible solutions in a new way
- Offering troubleshooting support without suggesting “one right way” to solve an issue
- Developing an action plan to address specific issues over a defined period of time
3. Identify training solutions
Another good way to incorporate constructive feedback into one-on-ones is to offer a training solution that addresses an employee’s area for development. It’s one thing to say, “Here is the problem,” but another to say, “Here is the problem, and here’s a tool that will help you address it.”
Training, whether on the job or through an outside provider, not only shows employees that their manager is committed to helping them address performance issues, but it can also be a useful way to build up skills and, thus, give employees the confidence they need to address outstanding performance issues.
4. Ask questions
Sometimes the best way to incorporate constructive feedback into a discussion is to start with a question. Questions typically get people talking and help establish a healthy dialogue. By asking an employee about their challenges with an internal process, teammate, or goal, you can set the stage for a discussion through which you learn about the employee’s experience first and then provide feedback and options for addressing problem areas. Examples of questions you can ask before providing constructive feedback include:
- How is your relationship with your coworkers?
- Do you have a relationship on the team you’d like to improve?
- Were you satisfied with the outcome of that last project?
5. Ask for and accept feedback
A manager’s sole responsibility isn’t to simply give constructive feedback; a manager must demonstrate humility by being willing to accept feedback as well. Giving feedback to employees should always be a balanced give-and-take of information rather than the delivery of criticism or judgment. A willingness to accept feedback, and not just give it, demonstrates a commitment to self-improvement and continuous learning, two admirable traits in any employee or manager. When you ask for feedback and show that you are willing to accept and act on it, you’re encouraging your employees to also be receptive to feedback.
6. Demonstrate empathy
One of the reasons employees might be resistant to feedback is because they need reassurance that their manager is “in their corner” and wants to help them succeed. By demonstrating empathy, you’re not only showing that you care about an employee’s success, but you’re also demonstrating that you can relate to their experiences and see things from their perspective. A one-on-one meeting is an excellent time to provide constructive feedback with a dose of empathy. When the feedback comes from a desire to help and you demonstrate the ability to see situations from the employee’s perspective, it’s easier to have an honest dialogue about areas of concern. Some of the ways you can demonstrate empathy in your one-on-ones include:
- Using active listening techniques when talking to employees—for example, by making strong eye contact or asking follow-up questions
- Putting yourself in employees’ shoes when crafting important messages
- Offering criticism without condescension
7. Be direct
Subtle messages are easy to misinterpret, but direct feedback lets employees know exactly where they stand. Constructive feedback doesn’t have to be so negative that it’s demoralizing, but it also shouldn’t be so sugarcoated that employees leave a feedback meeting without full clarity on the feedback or how to address it.
When preparing to give constructive feedback during an employee one-on-one, it makes sense to be thoughtful about not only the message but also the specific words and tone you’ll use to deliver it. Being direct requires taking the time to craft a constructive message that is both honest and clear. For example, if an employee has been having problems meeting deadlines, instead of saying, “Make sure you remember your deadlines,” or, “Let me know if you need help on meeting your deadlines,” a more direct message would sound something like this: “I noticed that you missed two important deadlines last week. It’s a concern because it delayed a production schedule. Let’s talk about how to address and fix this problem.”
8. Make it SMART
You’re likely familiar with SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. SMART goals ensure that performance expectations are clear and well-understood. Constructive feedback can be framed in the same way. Constructive feedback is more easily incorporated into a one-on-one when it is:
- Specific: clearly and unambiguously tells the employee what the issue is, what is expected, and what the options are for addressing the issue
- Measurable: explains what specific actions or results will demonstrate that the employee has heard and addressed the feedback
- Actionable: ties feedback to a specific corrective action
- Realistic: ensures feedback is on target and relevant to performance, rather than ancillary or trivial
- Time-bound: conveys a sense of urgency by describing the need to address feedback in a specific time frame
Constructive feedback is a powerful catalyst for performance improvement and employee growth. Delivering constructive feedback doesn’t have to be a stressful experience that leaves both parties feeling flustered, confused, or angry. With some helpful strategies and a software solution that takes the pain out of feedback delivery, your next employee one-on-one can be productive and beneficial for all.