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5 Tips for Giving Tough Feedback Like the Gift It Is

Can you remember the days when no feedback meant good news? When not hearing from your boss meant you were doing a good job?

Well, that’s not so much the case today. Feedback is widely recognized as a key tool for coaching, developing, and engaging employees. Receiving feedback has been shown to influence outcomes such as employee motivation and engagement, increasing self-awareness, enhancing maturity, and improving overall performance and results – to name just a few.

At Vantage, we’ve learned from our roundtable discussions with emerging leaders that Millennials prefer to work for a boss who provides them with “transformational feedback and coaching”. Similarly, in our Best Boss research, the most impactful bosses are the ones who provide pervasive feedback – that is, the really great bosses “consistently provide timely, constructive and respectful recognition and feedback.”

Despite all these positive effects, why do some people still react to feedback with resistance? Tough feedback is called “tough” for a reason, but it has immense benefits.


What differentiates feedback that is feared from something that’s actually received as a gift?


1. Consider your end goal.

What is the reason that you’re delivering the feedback? Is it to make someone feel bad about themselves (it shouldn’t be!) or is it to help them be better at something (their job, a particular task, etc.)? Remind yourself that you are ultimately delivering this feedback for the other person. This will help you set the stage for the conversation in a favorable light.

2. Be in the right mindset.

Most individuals do not like to give constructive feedback. It’s not meant to feel enjoyable. You can set yourself up for success, however, by making sure you deliver feedback when you are at your best.

If you’re feeling stressed, distracted, or unprepared for the conversation, that’s probably not the best time to sit down and deliver a potentially difficult message. Give yourself time to prepare for the conversation – that is, document specifics and behaviors, practice out loud beforehand, and anticipate potential push-back and defensiveness. This approach will put you in a better frame of mind. Once you’re in the conversation, be sure to minimize distractions and stay present.

3. Build trust.

Use an approach that feels authentic to you. Although you want to be prepared, don’t feel like you have to follow a particular script when delivering feedback. Rather, ask open-ended questions to gather your employee’s perspective. Rephrase your understanding of their message to demonstrate that you have heard their side of the story. Where possible, identify ways to build a connection or relate to your employee. If you already have an established relationship with them, utilize their personal motivations, interests, and aspirations to make the message meaningful to them.

4. Stay positive.

Even when providing less-than-favorable feedback, it is possible to maintain a positive stance and remain calm and composed. Consider starting the conversation with positive feedback. What does the person do well? Then move on to describing what behaviors need to change, why, and how you can support them in that process. Try to make sure the person leaves the conversation feeling hopeful, not defeated.

5. Allow time to reflect.

Realistically, feedback is difficult to hear and take in. No one wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. It’s also often very common for someone to get defensive, upset, sad, or offer an excuse, particularly if the message relates to a pain point for them. Recognize that this may happen regardless of the approach you use. Pay attention to their reaction to gauge whether they want to continue talking, or whether they just need some space to digest the information. Give them time to reflect and follow up in a week after they’ve had some time to sit with your message.

Although there is no perfect way to deliver feedback, these suggestions will help you better prepare for and organize your next feedback, whether professionally or personally.

What else has worked for you when delivering feedback? What are techniques others have used with you when giving tough feedback that you appreciated? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

For more information, check out Vantage’s other blogs on giving feedback, such as:

The Vantage Advantage

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