Giving and receiving clear, constructive feedback requires courage and skill. And it's essential to building the relationships you need to motivate peak performance from your team. Consider the following tips:

Give feedback to your team members

  • Conduct frequent performance review sessions to nip issues in the bud and avoid the messy interpersonal tangles that result from neglected communication. Meet with employees on a monthly or quarterly basis instead of annually to foster accessibility.
  • It' s never easy to provide negative feedback regarding someone' s work, but as a leader you can' t avoid it. Be as clear as possible when providing feedback (both positive and negative). Give specific examples that illustrate your points.

    Instead of saying, "Your attitude is bad" or "That didn' t work," you might say something like, "When you miss deadlines, then cross your arms and look away when I mention it, it gives me the impression that you don' t care. I' d like to believe this isn' t true. Can you help me understand this better?"
  • Work out a concrete progress plan. Be clear about the specific changes in behavior that you expect within a finite period of time, and follow up as scheduled.
  • When you communicate with employees, reinforce the value of their contributions by giving specific examples of how day-to-day work and positive behaviors serve the organization and its customers.

Ask staff for feedback

  • Understand that staff members may be afraid to express their opinions at first, particularly if expression has not been encouraged in the past. If you receive the feedback with grace, even if it' s critical, it will help build trust.
  • Provide your own opinion first, if necessary, to get the conversation started. For example, you might share your own opinion of improvements that can be made within your firm, or anonymously share constructive criticism offered by other employees.
  • Ask for feedback on how meetings are run and what employees would like to discuss. By involving them in discussions, you' re more likely to have their support, and they are more likely to have the necessary information and tools do their jobs well.

Using feedback forums

  • Offer options that allow for anonymous input. Suggestion boxes, anonymous surveys, and "graffiti walls" are examples. In small firms, this isn't always possible, since the tone of a comment or the subject matter may well reveal its author. Honest, face-to-face options might be better for very small groups, while the anonymous feedback options might be more appropriate for organizations that have a more political, hierarchical culture.
  • Invite employees from different areas to a discussion on certain issues. Reassure each individual that he or she won' t be penalized for expressing an opinion, and that you don't treat employees differently just because they've offered honest criticism.
  • Employees may feel more comfortable providing their ideas, feedback, and opinions to an outside source. Hire a neutral party to gather feedback, and allow the third-party interviewers to keep specific interviewees and their contributions confidential.

This information provides food for thought, rather than consultation designed to meet the needs of your organization or situation. The most effective communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get assistance from a communication expert.

Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. Coauthor Sarah Fenson is Ivy Sea's Guide to Client Services.