As the boss, it's your job to bring out the best in every member of your team. Inevitably, this means you will have to give individual feedback along the way, but how can you be sure your advice will be taken to heart and not met with defensiveness?
These six entrepreneurs share their experiences giving and receiving feedback. Below are their best tips for ensuring your words have the impact you're hoping for.
Ditch the 'sandwich' and use empathy.
When giving feedback, forget the formulas and focus on the individual. "The feedback sandwich (compliment, then critique, then compliment) often comes across as disingenuous and can undermine your praise," says Danny Boice, founder and CEO of on-demand private investigator service Trustify. In fact, trying too hard to stick to such a tactic could do more harm than good.
"People are smart and can often see through this method," he adds. "Try giving feedback with empathy instead. Use an anecdote or take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. Finally, always offer a clear suggestion on how the person can improve."
Give feedback without judgment.
"Feedback should be free of judgment," says Peggy Shell, founder and CEO of recruitment firm Creative Alignments. "Empathize with your employees, and you'll develop feedback intuition." While you may have to give feedback on an employee's weakness, it should never feel like a personal attack.
"With one new employee, I found my feedback was met with guilt and shame. Eventually, I discovered how to frame my suggestions and, once she understood that my feedback didn't contain negativity or blame, she gained confidence. Soon, feedback between us was shared with ease," she says.
Begin with a positive frame.
You don't expect your employees to be perfect 100% of the time -- they are human, after all. What you really want is to see that they are putting forth their best efforts. Stay positive, and keep this goal in mind.
"Instead of criticizing someone, it's best to say 'You are capable of so much more, so here's what I think you should do in this situation going forward,'" says Nitin Chhoda, CEO of skincare and nutrition line Total Activation. "This sets the stage for the future and allows the other person to course correct with dignity."
Provide brutally honest, real-time coaching.
While you may be trying to avoid hurting your employee's feelings, veiling the truth will do little good for either of you. And putting off the conversation only means you'll wait longer to see results. "Always provide real-time, situational coaching. Don't wait until the next performance review, which may be months away," says Erik Bullen, CEO of marketing SaaS platform MageMail.
"Also, be brutally honest. Passive aggressiveness helps no one. These rules are in the best interest of the employee, their team and the company."
Customize your communication.
There is no one right way to give feedback, according to Kevin Hong, CSO of Cinema Intelligence and author of The Outlier Approach. "Everyone's communication style is different, so customize," he says. To do this, you must put in the effort to get to know your employees and, specifically, what communication types work best for them.
"Before we make any hires, we go through a rigorous culture test, making our employees take various personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs," he says. "While some like to have a nice feedback session at a bar or over lunch, others might prefer the 'sandwich technique.' Know your team!"
"Feedback is only as effective as the credibility of the source," says Adam Mendler, CEO of technology-driven business development firm The Veloz Group. If you want employees to take your feedback seriously and believe you have both the team and the individual's best interests at heart, make sure your actions show it every day.
"In my first job out of college, I was instinctively skeptical of the feedback provided to me by my then boss, as I didn't trust or respect her. I learned that, in order to effectively give feedback, you must establish yourself as a person others will listen to, regardless of your rank in the chain of command."