In the earlier post, “Five clear actions to take as a first-time tech manager”, the third action was Provide direct feedback. But as you may have discovered, this is harder than it seems.
Whatever the situation, [your team members] all deserve direct honesty from you and a clear understanding of your expectations.
Anything less is a disservice to them and to you.
It’s tempting, so, so, tempting to skim the difficult topics or to only share the good feedback with your team. And it’s natural; few people really enjoy conflict.
Feedback should be direct…
Direct literally means “with nothing in between” and that’s exactly what you should strive for. What this means in practice is that you get to the point and you clearly say what you intend.
Feedback isn’t always negative; it can be positive feedback too. But as noted earlier, few people really enjoy conflict and avoid it. Likely, you’ll soon find yourself either delaying the conversation altogether, having the conversation but speeding through the tough parts, or worse, burying the feedback in happy talk.
In all of the above cases you actually avoided conveying your intent. But happy talk is the worst because you fool yourself into thinking you are delivering a tough message when in reality the other person probably isn’t hearing that at all. This is because it’s natural as listeners to grab hold of and remember the positive parts and to ignore or forget the parts that make us uncomfortable.
Finally, providing direct, constructive feedback isn’t about being nasty or mean. If you find yourself doing this, then you need to immediately self-assess why you’re acting this way. And providing direct, constructive feedback isn’t about being overly sweet or comforting the person’s feelings, because doing so will likely cause your feedback to be completely lost. Instead, be professional and direct - with nothing in between.
Feedback should be timely…
Timely means as quickly after the event as possible. If the feedback is positive, then you should be able to share that immediately, and often it’s okay to do so in a public setting. If the feedback is negative or difficult, then you absolutely must wait until the two of you are meeting in private.
But don’t wait too long. Same day is best, a few days is okay, more than a business week is too late.
Feedback should be frequent…
Frequent means as often as naturally possible (it’s the naturally part here that’s tricky.) Feedback should most often be about what’s going well. These are the “thank you”s, the “you’re awesome’s”, the “what you did was great and here’s why…” that you as a manager need to be ever vigilant to share. Note: the here’s why part of the “what you did is great message” is really important. We’ll cover that in a future post.
Most important of all, be genuine. People can smell fake a mile away.
Sharing your gratitude and the positive impact they’re making for the company makes it much easier to share the tough feedback.
And on that, don’t wait until things are really bad and it becomes the big talk. Unless it’s just something completely unexpected, then you should be sharing missed expectations as quickly as naturally possible. If it’s reached a breaking point for you or your team members that are affected, then you’ve waited too long - and you’re responsible for that.
An approach for giving constructive feedback in tough situations
- State what you expected
- State what you observed
- State what you expect in the future
This approach is easy to remember and works for many situations, not just the tough ones. If you’re in a situation where you are having difficulty coming up with the right words to say, or the issue has grown large enough to become the big talk, or if you just want a simple way to broach an uncomfortable conversation, then start with this.