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Delivering Feedback: How to avoid a ‘return to sender’ gift

First off, communicating helpful and productive feedback takes compassion, self-awareness, keen observational insight, and not to mention, patience. Frankly, it’s not easy and you won’t always get it right. Some employees may require TLC in order for feedback to land well, while others may desire the brutal truth, sans sugar please. Some employees may crave feedback due to embracing a growth mindset, while others may never ask for feedback due to being stuck in a fixed mindset.

Whatever the situation, a manager should strive to develop their directs, inspire them, and motivate them do their best work, while also being objective and honest about areas of growth. This is when feedback is truly a gift.

For managers who yearn to improve in the feedback department, sharing some tips I’ve learned over the years as a coach, female in tech, and receiver of all types of feedback:

1. High level feedback without examples or support isn’t helpful – It’s perplexing when coaching clients tell me they received feedback such as: they need to “be more strategic,” or they need to “have stronger presence,” or they need to “communicate more effectively.” As a result of this ‘broad umbrella’ feedback, my coaching clients (along with myself) are left trying to make sense of how to improve in these areas. When providing feedback, share specific examples, such as “During the presentation to the executive team last month, you seemed to waiver when questioned by the CFO. You knew the numbers inside and out and were very well prepared. You are such a polished, poised, and confident presenter, what was happening for you when the CFO raised those questions?”

2. Provide balanced feedback – When sharing feedback, take time to connect head, heart, and gut. Consider the employee’s superpowers, how they add value to the team or company, challenges the employee may be facing personally or professionally, and what type of feedback may be most useful at a given point in time. Then turn inward and ask yourself:

-Am I being overly critical of this employee because they are serving as a mirror for my own ‘areas of development?’ -Am I seeing all the strengths of this employee or only focusing on their flaws? -Am I projecting on this employee because I find them difficult or different? -Do I want this employee to be more like me or to fit a certain mold?

3. Reflect and refine – If feedback doesn’t land well with an employee, reflect on what you could have done differently and refine your approach for next time. Having hard conversations takes courage, practice, and an understanding of yourself. Employees will be grateful however to receive regular ‘gifts’ they are eager to open, knowing these gifts will only make them better (and ideally will drive greater impact for the company as well).

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