We have all been in the situation when someone provided feedback and it hit the wrong cord. Perhaps you got that uneasy feeling and started to question everything.

The search for ways to give and receive better feedback assumes that feedback is always useful because we’re giving it to help people do better. Right?

Let’s align on feedback. Feedback is informing someone about their performance – explaining if they’re meeting expectations and suggesting how to make improvements. When giving feedback to individuals, managers sometimes run into a feedback failure trap. Once you get stuck in this trap it can be difficult to climb out. Here are the common traps and tips to avoid them.

Feedback Failure #1 | You Get too Personal

When giving feedback to individuals, you can fall into the trap of saying things that are personal in nature rather than constructive. This definitely comes into play when your feedback is in regards to personality.

Weird personal habits or behavioral quirks can throw someone off. Which can create tricky and delicate situations at work that can affect teamwork and even customer retention. Typically, the format for performance-based feedback relies on this structure: “When you did X, the result was Y, so next time please do Z.”

However, when it comes to personal habits or issues you need to discuss with someone you can’t follow this type of structure. Whenever someone’s habit has a negative impact on their colleagues or their ability to get work done, it’s vital to find an appropriate way to bring this up. Your ability to give feedback, even though it’s often painful to both parties, will support the organization and everyone within it.

Overall, before giving feedback, remind yourself why you are doing it. Always remember, you won’t accomplish your goals of making your work experience better by being critical or offensive.

Tip: If the situation involved is highly emotional, wait until everyone has calmed down before you engage in feedback. The recipient will more likely hear what you’re saying, and you’ll avoid saying something in the heat of the moment that you regret later.

Feedback Failure #2 | Focusing on Weaknesses

Forgetting the strengths and only focusing on weaknesses is a pitfall a lot of people fall into.

69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were being better recognized. Employees who receive little or no feedback from their managers tend to disengage from their work more readily. And overall, 39% of employees feel like they are unappreciated at work!

So why not focus on the positives? The reality is that your strengths are what got you to where you are in your career.

When giving feedback to someone weaving some positives among the negatives can be a good way to reassure employees that you haven’t lost perspective or hope in their work. For example, you can say something like, “I think you did a great job with selling to this industry, I noticed that sales are up 9% from last month.” At this point, you can start talking about the area that needs improvement. Such as, “however, we’ve had a few customers tell us that some of their questions went unanswered.”

This tells the employee that you’re not criticizing their overall performance; just that certain aspects of their job need attention. Just be careful not to over-emphasize the positives, as this can make you appear uncertain or insincere.

Feedback Failure #3 | No Follow-Up Plan

So, you provided feedback, what’s next?

Feedback is only helpful to the extent that it gets acted upon and used. We have noticed many times that feedback doesn’t get implemented. This isn’t because they didn’t care about the feedback but simply because there was so plan on how to overcome this issue they may have been facing.

Great managers don’t delay. They’re proactive and aim to fix the problem sooner than later. When exactly is best? Some managers prefer to address problems at the close of business, the end of a shift, the end of the week, or just before some downtime. The smartest managers take into account what effect the discussions will have on the team. Great managers will always respect privacy. Some prefer a neutral location; others will put the employee at ease by coming to their workspace, if secluded enough.

So remember, no plan = no change in behavior. Behavior is hard to change so you need to set reminders. You need to revisit what you talked about periodically.

Feedback Failure #4 | Managers versus Coaches

Great managers are exceptional coaches. This we have talked about time after time. Coaches expose the problem in a specific way, they come to an agreement with the other person and work toward a mutual solution. This solution always has follow-up steps that both individuals agree upon.

These managers coach and counsel with these principles in mind:

  • Discuss performance issues, not the person.
  • Limit the discussion to facts, not assumptions.
  • Stay objective; back yourself up with documentation, records, or statistics.
  • Spell out clearly what’s acceptable and how to achieve it.
  • Listen and allow for venting.
    • Share the blame, if necessary.
  • Focus on the future, not the past.
  • Find a better way. Use open-ended coaching questions to draw the employee out.
  • Summarize what’s been said and what you both agreed to.
    • Put this in writing if it’s serious enough.
  • End on a positive note and allow the other person to regain confidence that improvement can happen.
    • Be available and encourage them to seek you out when needed.
  • Follow up. Set a time and place to review progress.

For feedback to be successful, it must be timely, thoughtful and rational. Companies that have implemented feedback culture enjoy a 14.9% lower turnover rate.

In closing, remember that giving feedback is a skill. And like all skills, it takes practice.