Constructive feedback has played a big role in building some of the most successful companies in the world. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is known to treat customer feedback, especially negative feedback, as a ticking time bomb--seriously and carefully until it is disarmed.
But how do you deliver feedback to your employees? In a 2014 study, 43 percent of managers said delivering feedback is a "stressful and difficult experience." If you're stressed and ridden with anxiety while trying o give constructive feedback to an employee, how do you think they'll receive it?
"Unfortunately, if you're stressed and anxious when delivering feedback, it will translate into poor communication (often abruptness or rambling), which will make it hard for the recipient to hear, understand, and apply the value of the information you're delivering. Worse, your discomfort will be mirrored by the recipient and the interaction might actually erode his or her trust in you instead of enhancing it," writes Liane Davey, a vice president at employee development firm Knightsbridge Human Capital, in Harvard Business Review.
The secret to delivering feedback successfully, Davey says, is to make the message feel as if it's coming from an "ally, not an adversary."
Below, find out the five secrets to delivering feedback that your employees will receive well and use to better their performance.
1. Question your motives
Your motives need to reflect the fact that you're invested in your employee's success, Davey writes. Realizing you are helping them is a natural way to ease your own anxiety. You also need to make sure you're in the right state of mind to be effective, and that you do not have raw emotions that could make you come off as antagonistic.
2. Background and factual account
Before dishing out the feedback, you need to set the stage by mentioning the importance of a particular campaign, product, or project you're working on together. Then lay out the situation where you observed the problem behavior. "Be crisp and objective; and be sure to remove judgment and subjectivity. Instead of 'you were very disrespectful to me,' try 'you interrupted me three times.' Don't be afraid to comment on nonverbal behavior as well: 'You turned away as I was speaking.' Ideally, you want your description to be so accurate that the only option is for the person to nod in agreement," Davey writes.
3. Impact on you
Once the facts are laid out, it's time for you to explain how your employee's behavior affected you. "Don't make the mistake of attributing intent, just focus on the impact of the behavior. For example, 'When you interrupted me three times, I think it reduced my credibility with the members of the other departments,'" she writes. "Using words like 'think' and 'feel' demonstrate that you are giving your interpretation rather than assuming your version is the truth."
4. Your job isn't done
You successfully delivered feedback, but if you truly care about the person you need to make sure they received the message, view it as constructive, and will work on the issue. "Those are the issues that matter to an ally, so you aren't done," Davey says. To transfer ownership of the feedback, ask them an open-ended question--how do you think that situation was interpreted by others?
This is when you "switch out of telling mode and into listening mode," she says. "You now get the opportunity to hear the other person's truth. You experienced it as disrespectful, but that's only one interpretation. What's the other person's version?"
You need to listen up, share your perspective, listen again, and share again. "Make sure you go back and forth sharing perspectives and listening at least two or three times to ensure that you're really hearing each other, increasing your understanding of yourselves and each other," she writes.
5. Think about this as an investment
Finally, you're done. But one last pearl of wisdom from Davey about how to frame giving feedback in your mind: "Feedback is an investment in a colleague and a demonstration that you're willing to endure a little discomfort to make your colleague and your relationship stronger," she writes. "It only works if you deliver it in a way that demonstrates that you're on the same team."