Giving constructive feedback is one of the most difficult aspects of the employee/management relationship. Managers want to provide honest performance feedback without upsetting employees. Rather than risk confrontations and hurt feelings, some managers retreat behind the shield of bland, generic performance reviews, generalizations, and insincere praise — softening feedback to the point it becomes useless.
Employees can also make it difficult to have honest performance conversations. To avoid negative feedback, many an employee positions him or herself in the best possible light during performance reviews or self-assessments. As for giving honest feedback to the boss, employees often shy away from the very idea, fearing the boss might take feedback the wrong way and retaliate, with consequences for career advancement, earning power, and even job continuation.
When these habits are allowed to flourish, honest performance feedback becomes all but impossible in the manager/employee relationship. Candid, honest dialogue vanishes, and both organizational and individual development suffers.
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The Power of Discomfort
Candid, honest performance discussions make people uncomfortable — there’s no question about it. But it’s within the hard conversations — the ones people shy away from — that the potential for real dialogue and improvement lies. Employees who receive honest feedback are typically more engaged. Managers who receive honest performance feedback are generally more effective. Honest performance conversations are valuable, productive discussions. Here are a few suggestions to take some of the discomfort out of the equation and move toward a more candid, empowering employee/manager relationship.
Honesty requires trust. Without trust, both sides of the conversation are unlikely to react well to constructive criticism. Building a foundation of trust and mutual respect is vital to honest performance discussions.
Trust isn’t something that develops overnight. It takes time and continuous effort to build a strong, trusting relationship. Managers can begin by letting employees know they’re valued and prefacing any constructive criticism by assuring employees managers only want to help them achieve their full potential.
Hold Frequent 1:1 Meetings
Confining feedback to annual performance reviews makes it difficult to develop the trust needed for honest performance conversations, if for no other reason than the fact that neither party will be able to accurately remember everything that happened in the previous 12 months.
Instead of limiting feedback to annual reviews, switch to monthly 1:1 meetings and a system of real-time feedback. Most employees prefer immediate feedback, as it helps them improve the outcome of their current tasks. 1:1 meetings also build comfort levels in the manager/employee relationship, as both parties become accustomed to interacting and discussing a wide range of topics.
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Guide to One-on-Ones
Acknowledge the Discomfort
Talking about how giving and receiving feedback makes people uncomfortable helps get the issue out into the open. Discuss the ways people react to feedback and the advantages of honest performance conversations. Acknowledging the problem helps both manager and employee move forward.
Keep Honest Performance Conversations Separate from Other Issues
Employees, especially, find it difficult to have transparent discussions about personal performance on the same agenda as compensation, promotion, and job security. This makes perfect sense — who wants to admit they need to improve their work performance in the same meeting where a financial raise is on the line? Keep feedback discussions separate from other work-related issues. Again, regular 1:1s make it much easier to focus a meeting on performance alone without trying to cram everything into one annual meeting.
Actively listening to someone else is an important soft skill. If you’re already formulating a response before the other person has finished speaking, you aren’t truly focused on what they have to say. Take the time to really listen to the other person, and you’ll both experience a more fulfilling, productive conversation.
Practice Emotional Intelligence
It’s not just what we say that determines the success or failure of an honest conversation. Body language and emotions also play a role. Learning to read emotional signals — and identify them in yourself — is an important component of emotional intelligence, as is validating and empathizing with the other person’s point of view.
Honest performance feedback benefits managers, employees, and their organizations. It may sometimes make people uncomfortable, but the ability to share a candid discussion is vitally important. With honesty and a commitment to act in each other’s best interests, coworkers can move mountains.