Tough talk

As a manager and leader, you will at times need to give constructive feedback to your staff. It’s never easy, but don’t bury your head in the sand. If you get it right, you not only get your message across, but you’ll build a tighter and higher performing team.

In my work as the FM Coach, I often help people with this specific issue and in this article you can read my top tips to guide you through these tough conversations.

What not to do
Some people believe in the ‘praise sandwich’ – praise the individual, then cover the area you need them to improve in, then finish with another piece of praise. My view is, keep things simple and keep things separate. If there’s a performance issue, focus on that. If you want to give praise, do that at a different time. Don’t muddy the waters – after all, if someone is giving you some feedback on an issue they have with your performance, you’re likely to either forget any praise that came with it, or focus on the praise and ignore the more constructive stuff!

Be prepared
Although feedback is most effective when given as soon as possible after the behaviour has occurred, you should avoid ‘shoot from the lip’ feedback. Take some time to prepare, gather your facts and specific examples, and be sure to give feedback before the situation occurs again.

Ask them
Set the scene, highlight the topic you want to cover, then ask them what they think. It is more effective to allow the person to voice their own opinions before providing your own assessment of their performance. Most people are well aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and this could help ease into a useful discussion.

Be specific
Vague feedback doesn’t give the person anything to work on. Consider the ‘who, what, where, when, how and why’ questions before you launch into your feedback.

Don’t say: “You’re no good at building client relationships’.

Instead say: “When you were talking to Mr X the senior partner this morning, I noticed that you answered a call on your mobile phone.”

Focus on facts
Make it personal and you’ll lose credibility. Constructive feedback is not criticism and in particular it’s not about the person. It is about their behaviour and/or performance. One of our needs as human beings is to belong, and if we feel we are being criticised for who we are, as opposed to what we do, we can feel the connection with our colleagues is broken. For some people, this can be very destructive.

Ditch the Dump Truck
People can change 1 thing, not 12, so limit your feedback to one point. Besides, as a manager and leader of people, you should never be ‘saving things up’ for an annual performance review or other meeting. Tackle issues as they arise, one at a time.

Refuse to dance
Don’t return emotion with emotion. Some people will feel affronted by any type of perceived criticism and may react angrily. Allow them plenty of time to take in what you’re saying and ask questions if they need you to clarify things.

Agree a way forward
You may want to ask if they can suggest actions that would help build on their skills in this particular area. Let them take responsibility for coming up with the actions to move forward – they are far more likely to make progress if it’s their own solution. It’s important at this stage to agree when the steps will be accomplished.

It’s useful if you summarise the output of the feedback session and any agreed actions, to ensure that you have heard correctly and understood things from their perspective.

Any thoughts? Want to share what works for you and your team? Send your input to Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email:

A version of this article appeared in FMX Magazine.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *