Giving Constructive Feedback and Handling Fallout

Best Practices for Giving Constructive Feedback

This article was updated on July 2, 2018.

Constructive feedback should play an important role in every job. This type of feedback can help your employees improve their performance and reach their career goals. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it this way, and you may have team members who don't respond well to feedback. In order to keep this problem under control, it's important for you to understand how to manage an employee who has an unfavorable response to feedback.

Pick the Right Moment to Deliver Feedback

The wrong setting and timing can set the conversation off in the wrong direction. In an effort to prevent any potential blowback, you should pick the right moment to give feedback. As always, you should try to avoid giving negative feedback in front of other employees, because this could embarrass the individual on the receiving end. Consider having this discussion in private, or with another witness present, such as an HR professional.

You should consider waiting until things have calmed down, as well. For example, if an employee made a mistake that lost a big sale, he or she will likely be upset about this loss for a couple days and may not be open to feedback during this time as a result.

Also, if an employee who normally takes feedback well is suddenly defensive, you should keep in mind that he or she may just be having a bad day. In this situation, you can simply try to reschedule the meeting for another time. You may want to send over advance notice of the topic for discussion so they don't appear blindsided.

Stay Calm and Constructive

If you know an employee tends to react badly to constructive feedback, it's easy to feel tense before the meeting, as if you're gearing up for a big fight. In this situation, you need to try to be the bigger person and stay calm throughout the entire conversation, even if the employee does not follow your lead. The conversation should be about the feedback or performance issue you are addressing, and you should avoid getting defensive or making personal comments about the employee. If you keep your cool, hopefully that will encourage your employee to remain calm as well.

Listen to the Employee

Constructive feedback should not be a one-way street. After all, it's possible that employees get upset and defensive because they feel as if they don't have a chance to share their side of the story. As you discuss, you should give the employee a chance to explain what he or she thinks happened.

As you listen to the employee, pay close attention to what he or she is actually saying. Your staff member may have a valid point that you didn't originally consider. At the same time, you should listen actively so that you can use his or her comments in your response. When your employees feel heard, they will be more likely to be receptive to your comments. If, during the conversation, the employee raises a concern that warrants escalation, you should follow your company processes to help make sure that the concern is managed appropriately.

Remember to document conversations in which you provide employees with constructive feedback. Your documentation should be fair, unbiased, detailed and accurate, and all documentation should be stored securely so it remains confidential and private.

Remind Employees of the Benefits of Constructive Feedback

Employees should know that you aren't giving them feedback to make their lives difficult. Instead, let them know that you're providing this feedback to help improve their professional development. Point out that they can continue to make progress in your company by striving to set and reach goals based on this critique, and consider scheduling time in the future check in on whether they have taken steps to meet these goals. Focusing on the positive can help keep your employee from responding negatively to constructive feedback.