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6 lies you probably tell yourself about giving feedback at work

If you’re open and honest with your team, they are less likely to fear your feedback.

6 lies you probably tell yourself about giving feedback at work
[Photo: Joanna Nix/Unsplash]

As a manager, you know that it’s your job to coach your team and help people improve. You know that it’s up to you to set the tone of the relationship that you have with your employees, and that you’re responsible for cultivating an environment that allows them to do their best work.

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You’re aware that being a manager requires you to have difficult conversations. But you also believe that giving feedback is hard, very hard, and it scares you. If this sounds like you, it might be because you believed in the following myths.

1. Giving honest feedback will ruin your reputation as a calm boss or coworker

The people you manage will pick up on your emotional state as you give feedback. If you feel that feedback is nothing more or nothing less than information they need to do their jobs better, you can easily remain cool and calm. If you’ve been holding back and feel nervous about what you need to say to somebody, then they pick up on your emotional cues and feel anxious. They might create stories in their heads about how you perceive them when it might not be what you think at all.

Get clear in your mind about the value of giving feedback. If you are a true believer and expect everyone on your team to give and receive feedback often, you’ll find that it becomes much easier to exchange feedback anytime you need to do so.

2. You need to prepare ahead by writing plenty of behavioral details to back up your feedback

An ideal manager relationship should involve regular conversation that addresses what an employee is doing well and where they may be able to improve. Unfortunately, this kind of reality tends to be the exception rather than the rule. As a result, when people think of “feedback,” they automatically assume that it’s going to be negative.

Let me clear this up. You only need to begin documenting notes for legal purposes if you’ve given the person much face-to-face feedback for several months, and they show no sign of improvement. In my research as a performance coach, I’ve learned 95% of employees can (and will) improve any skill with your honest, frequent coaching. Just talk to people! Be open, be honest, and give them helpful examples and ideas. When they realize you’re on their side, they’ll ask for more feedback. Have confidence in yourself. If you provide feedback to everyone all the time, it will be much easier to prepare written documentation that you might need later.

3. You need to choose the right timing for giving feedback

Yes, it is crucial to be mindful of timing, but it’s also important not to overthink it. Of course, you want to ensure that you can have a private discussion. But all in all, you’ll build far more trust if people know their boss is straight with them, and they don’t feel like you’re “saving” negative comments for a magic moment in the future. Make sure they won’t stay awake at night or feel stressed over the weekend in anticipation of your criticism.

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4. Some people will get mad at you if you offer corrective comments about their work

Bosses tend to fear backlash more than it’s warranted. If you set the stage in your team for an environment of continuous learning and two-way feedback, your team won’t feel like they’re being singled out, and they’ll become accustomed to feedback discussions. Always include positive feedback when it’s authentic. Role model the idea of feedback by following your group meetings with some quick brainstorming about how your whole group can have a better meeting next time. Be sure to include the positives that you think should continue. Also, be open in both individual and group meetings about the personal changes you are making based on their feedback to you.

5. If you ask for feedback about what you can do better, most won’t offer any helpful ideas

Your team can (and will) provide useful feedback for you, if they really “get” that you value it. Bear in mind that most people will be cautious about how you will react, so you’ll need to give examples of what you’ve heard before (e.g., “I’ve been told I jump in and talk too fast, so I’m working on slowing down and cueing people on the topic I’m going to discuss”). Thanking people for giving feedback publicly can also go a long way in making people feel comfortable in speaking up. Just don’t argue with (or denigrate) anyone who gives you critical feedback. That will damage the team’s willingness to speak up in the future.

6. Most young, ambitious employees want to be praised a lot and aren’t open to your suggestions for change

A big stereotype about millennials and “younger” generations is that they’re sensitive to critical feedback. There is a myth that they only want praise and a pat on the head by their bosses, who they expect should act like encouraging “parents.”

While younger generations of employees want a positive work climate, my research shows that they actually want more, not less feedback. Because they are ambitious, they want transparency about what they need to do to advance in their jobs. They also have no patience with a manager who holds back honest feedback until the end of the year and rate the employee poorly. Millennials want the chance to improve.

Feedback is an integral part of one’s professional development. When you don’t tell your employees how they’re really performing, you’re not giving them a chance to remedy the situation, and your whole team suffers as a result. Remember, your employees can’t read your mind. You might find that when you’re open and honest with them, they’ll appreciate it and end up proving themselves to you in ways that you never thought possible.


Anna Carroll, MSSW, is an executive coach and author of The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success, which debuts Anna’s popular COIN feedback model.

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