How to give tough messages

Providing feedback to staff is always tough, but if it’s constructive, you not only get the message across, but, build a more cohesive and capable team as a result.

Constructive feedback is the only way to learn and develop—both personally and professionally.

That means, you as Manager, have a responsibility to your staff to help them develop. That means, you have to give constructive feedback.

What is constructive feedback?
First, I’ll tell you what it’s not.

Constructive feedback is not criticism (which has a negative connotation because it is so often generalized and personal).

Constructive feedback is a not personal (e.g. you are lazy), but a targeted response to an individual’s action or behavior (e.g. you did not accomplish the task you agreed to complete) that is intended to help them learn, and is delivered from a place of respect.

Constructive feedback is not “closed” but rather invites the individual receiving the feedback to shed light, share their perspective, or provide their response. (e.g. Do you see it differently?)

Constructive feedback does not blame, but presents a collaborative approach to problem-solving. (e.g. If we are all to go home tonight on time, task A needs to get done. What support can the team offer to finish task A, so that everyone gets to go home on time.)

Why constructive feedback works
Constructive feedback enables us to give honest, “tough messages” to those with whom we work.

However, instead of insulting, shutting-down others, or alienating those who receive the feedback, and thus lowering their morale and their resulting productivity, it motivates them to ask for help, and acknowledge a skill or competency deficiency, while feeling supported and respected.

Two of the most important factors influencing employee retention/satisfaction are: “great boss,” and “feeling part of a team” (Hay Group Study on retention). Constructive feedback, because it is delivered out of respect and a genuine desire for the individual to improve, accomplishes both.

Providing feedback, in this way, enables you to build the competency and cohesiveness of your team, while effectively managing performance issues. It also enables you to remain respected, well liked, and overall, considered “ a great boss.”

Principles of feedback
1. Choose correct timing for feedback
Praise is most effective when given as soon as possible after the behaviour has occurred. Immediate feedback will help to reinforce a correct behaviour and make it more likely to happen again.

When an incorrect behaviour is not corrected with feedback, the staff member may incorporate it into his or her customer of colleague interactions unknowingly. It is highly desirable, when possible, to give corrective feedback before the situation occurs again.

2. Ask for self assessment
Beginning by asking the person for self-assessment involves them in the feedback process.

It helps to promote an open atmosphere and dialogue between the person doing the coaching and the person being coached. Often the person is well aware of his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

It is more effective to allow the person to voice opinions before providing your own assessment of performance.

Through self-assessment, the person can gradually assume more responsibility for his or her own abilities and performance.

3. Focus on specifics
When you focus on a specific correct or incorrect behaviour, you remove the feedback from the sphere of personality differences and the other person will be more willing and able to change.

For example, when providing corrective feedback:

Do: “When you were talking to customer xyz, I noticed that you forgot to use her name”

Don’t: “You are not building rapport with the customer”

When providing praise:

Do: “When you spoke to customer xyz, I noticed that you used really good open and closed questioning techniques”

Don’t: “You communicated well there”

4. Limit feedback to a few important points
Good coaches and communicators identify one or two critical areas and help the person address them one at a time.

It is too hard to examine and try to change many aspects of behaviour at one time.

Restrict your feedback to one or two important points so that you do not overwhelm the other person with too many things to consider.

5. Provide more praise than corrective feedback
Positive reinforcement is one of the strongest factors in bringing about change.

Unfortunately a lot of people always focus on the negative.

When you give corrective feedback, remember to point out corrective behaviours first. This is as important as pointing out mistakes and areas that need improvement.

And always end the conversation on a positive.

6. Give praise for expected performance
People deserve to be praised for doing their job to the expected level. Too many people take the expected level for granted however.

Remember that praising anyone who meets established standards is as important as praising the exceptional performer.

Praise is a strong motivator, and enough praise may be what it takes to turn an average employee into an exceptional one.

7. Develop Action Plans
Work together to identify the desired performance or result and how it can be achieved.

Decide when the steps will be accomplished.

For more information about us, contact Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email:

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