Why is delivering feedback so hard?

When it comes to positive feedback, we're so busy (or have moved on to the next challenge) that we forget to praise people for a job well done.

And when it comes to negative feedback, we don't want to hurt people's feelings or damage relationships.

But feedback is essential. For example, managers need to provide ongoing feedback to team members so they understand what they're doing well and what they need to change. Positive and constructive feedback both foster continual learning and development. 

Delivering positive feedback

Recognizing good performance is important since it reinforces behavior you want team members to continue, demonstrates that you recognize their efforts and affirms people's self-esteem.

Here are four ways to praise people:

1. Say "Thank you." A simple, sincere thank you is a direct form of praise that goes a long way to show your appreciation of others.

2. Applaud specific behaviors. Describe the specific behavior you admire (e.g., completing a report on time, creating an effective new spreadsheet, achieving a sales goal). The more specific your feedback, the more likely your team member will repeat the desired behavior. Here's an example:

"Joe, you did an excellent job explaining the financial report in the meeting. By explaining the report format and terminology first, everyone was able to understand the data."

3. Praise in public. People like to receive compliments in front of their peers and supervisors. You can recognize efforts publicly in staff meetings or by sharing your praise through an email or social post to your entire team.

4. Give small tokens of appreciation.Rewards are a visible form of positive feedback and have a long-lasting impact. They remind people that they are important and appreciated.

Delivering constructive feedback

Positive feedback is easy; everyone likes to hear when they've done something well. Constructive feedback is a different story. Recipients sometimes view constructive feedback as a personal attack.

To communicate difficult messages while still maintaining goodwill, follow these seven guidelines:

1. Give feedback early in the day or week.
When you deliver feedback late in the day or at the end of the week, the recipient may return home feeling worried or anxious. Giving feedback early enables you to talk with the person in a more casual manner later in the day. Casual conversation after tough feedback helps to assure team members that your comments were directed at their performance, not at their personal worth.

2. Choose a time to give feedback when you are calm and unemotional. 
Your feedback will be more objective and constructive if you are calm. Never give feedback when you're angry; give yourself time to cool down.

3. Deliver difficult feedback in private. 
All discussions related to behavior or performance should take place during a private face-to-face meeting. People become defensive when they are criticized in front of others.

4. Be descriptive rather than evaluative. 
Feedback should be descriptive rather than evaluative. In other words, be specific about what the team member actually did or said and why the action or statement was less than effective. Don't criticize personal traits. 

For example, instead of saying, "You are difficult to work with," tell your coworker, "I would like you to work on your teamwork skills."

Instead of, "You tend to be lazy," say, "I need you to be more focused on your work and not spend so much time talking with your peers in the hallway."

5. Demonstrate empathy. 
Put yourself in your report's shoes and convey that you understand his or her feelings. Here's an example:

Team member says, "The reason I'm having trouble doing my work is I don't have sufficient help."

Manager says, "I understand you're working very hard and feel short-handed. Unfortunately we don't have the budget to add staff, even on a temporary basis. So let's focus on how we can prioritize your work and help you find ways to get the job done."

6. Provide specific suggestions for how your team member can improve. 
Communicate your support and offer to help team members build skills in necessary areas.

7. Follow up.
Keep the dialogue going by talking with your team member a few weeks after the initial discussion. Ask him/her how things are going and talk specifically about improvements that you've noticed.