Getting Comfortable Giving Tough Feedback at Work

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Getting Comfortable Giving Tough Feedback at Work

Tough Feedback

Awkward situation alert! You know it’s time to give tough feedback to a direct report, but you’ve been dreading it so much that it falls to the next day on your to-do list….5 days in a row. Every morning, you gear up on your commute to do it and then you let literally everything else take precedence over it.


That pattern stops now.


First, let me say that it’s completely normal to let this pattern develop in the first place. We humans are eager for serenity and hate rocking the boat, especially in such a potentially charged environment as the workplace, where people are vying for recognition and where they have a whole host of hangups regarding self worth or any number of other things.


But it’s time to break the pattern.




Because tough feedback is CRITICAL to your employees’ development, the smooth functioning of high profile projects and good rapport both internally and with external clients or partners.  So how can you get comfortable giving tough feedback?


Know that it’s valued: According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, 72% of people believe corrective feedback helps performance and 100% welcome it. Whoa. So, your people WANT know how they’re doing, whether it’s great or not-so-great.


Know it’ll be awkward: We tend to shy away from experiences that are less than ideal, but we’ve built up the ideal into an unattainable thing. So, therein lies the conundrum. Instead of leaning away from providing feedback because it’s awkward, acknowledge it and do it anyway. You can also institute the concept of “This too shall pass”, meaning that it’s just one moment in time and once it’s over, it’s over. This could further take the dread down a notch.


Think about the long-term benefits: Is Sally not providing the work in a format the client expects? Is Jimmy dressing inappropriately for meetings with external partners? Now what if those problems were no longer ones you had to spend your time on because they’ve long since been addressed? What does this open you up to do for your company and for your direct reports instead? Thinking about how you can better use your time and energy once these issues are resolved can help you push yourself over the threshold on providing the tough feedback.


Think about your role in this: Was there proper training to help prevent the issue in the first place? If not, this might be something you include in your onboarding process. But keep in mind, new employees are often overwhelmed with a barrage of information, so give them the benefit of the doubt at first too. Sometimes that makes all the difference between an employee receptive to feedback and a defensive one.


Use the sandwich method: This doesn’t mean sugar coat the feedback til it’s unrecognizable as critical or constructive feedback, but it does mean it could be helpful to soften the blow a bit. You can start with something they’re doing on the project that is great. Recognizing clear communication or special care with clients goes a long way for your employees. Then, you can point out what’s come to your attention as the not so great piece and then you can close with a conversation to help them come up with a plan to correct that behavior. This is the last piece of the sandwich- a vote of confidence in them that you believe they can and will make it right.


I could really go on and on about giving feedback, and we will. There are so many different articles we can write to give you more and more tips and advice for specific situations and with specific people within your organization. For example, how do you provide feedback to your boss? 😨 What do you do if it’s feedback that touches upon cultural differences? These are topics for another time, but in the meantime, I hope we’ve provided you with enough fodder to get over your intense fear of having these conversations in the first place.


Comment below

What tactics have worked for you in terms of giving tough feedback?