3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Giving Feedback

Leaders are constantly providing feedback to their employees. It’s a basic characteristic of leadership, yet one that is often handled awkwardly. Janice, a newly-minted department head, rose through the ranks by being very good at what she does (her expertise is finance). Functional expertise is a common path to promotion, but one that does not prepare people for the demands of leadership they will encounter at higher levels of their organization.

Early on, Janice struggled with feedback, giving it in ways that simply were not helpful. But she’s learned from her experiences!  She’s worked with her executive coach to improve her communication skills, her understanding of emotional intelligence, and other vital leadership traits. For other tips about feedback from Arden Coaching executive coach Margaret Enloe, read “A Leader Knows How to Give Feedback. True or False?

Don’t Provide Feedback To Show Off

Why are you providing feedback? To strut your stuff, or to help your employee improve their performance and achieve better results? Some of Janice’s early feedback was delivered to demonstrate that she knew more about finance than her employees. It may have been an attempt to establish herself in her new supervisory role, but Janice’s I-know-better-than-you tone was off-putting, and the feedback was not helpful to her team’s performance. Make sure you are giving feedback for the right reasons.

Don’t Be Vague!

How precise is your feedback? Is it specific enough to help the recipient make a change or take an action? Janice often offered feedback that was too general and broad. “I know that Janice did not like my proposed project plan,” said one employee recently, “But I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong or where I needed to make revisions.” Good feedback needs to be concrete and specific. It needs to help your team take a new action or behave differently. If the employee’s project plan made overly optimistic assumptions about deliverables related to supply chain dependencies, that is feedback that an employee can use. “I don’t like your assumptions,” is not helpful.

Another employee said, “Janice told me that I was disrespectful at team meetings. I am a pretty direct person, but I’m not sure what I said or who I said it to. How can I work to change my behavior if I don’t really know what the problem is?”

Don’t Dictate Solutions

After giving feedback, Janice was not engaging employees in problem-solving or solutions. She would often prescribe a solution. She had thought it over and decided what the best next steps would be.

After providing clear, specific feedback, employees need to be included in the conversation about meaning, conclusions, and next steps. Inclusion demonstrates mutual respect, it helps bring to light any assumptions that you may have got wrong in determining your feedback, and it helps create ownership (“Yes, my supply chain assumptions are too rosy — what can I do about that?”). Partnering with an employee to discuss and determine next steps, or changes needed, also opens the door to helpful ideas that may not have occurred to you.

New Leaders, New Reality — Focus On Developing Your Leadership Skills

Giving people truly constructive feedback is difficult! It needs to be delivered with honesty and precision, but (if there’s any genuine hope that the feedback with be accepted and used) with constructive kindness. (For more about feedback, read “Avoid These Pitfalls When Giving Employee Feedback,” and “The Benefits of Using the SBI Feedback Model.”) Janice has been quick to recognize the importance of leadership skills and has honestly embraced a leadership path. Her skills are growing and her team is responding positively!

To learn more about providing feedback, communication skills, and improving your leadership skills, contact the executive coaches at Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.