10 ways to give and get effective employee feedback

Strong leaders recognize that it’s just as important to receive honest employee feedback as it is to give out feedback. Communication must flow both ways in order for a team to function. For managers, this can require a delicate balancing act. You need to create an atmosphere of trust so that you can deliver constructive criticism effectively while also inviting authentic feedback from your team that can help you be a better boss. How do you build this environment and create an open channel of communication with your team?

Let’s start with a look at how to deliver effective feedback to your workers.

The five things you need to know about giving employee feedback

Delivering constructive criticism to your employees is one of a manager’s trickiest responsibilities. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organization Psychology found that employees reacted to a negative event five times more strongly than they reacted to a positive event in the workplace.

This finding implies something that most people intuitively understand. Negative feedback is far more memorable and powerful than positive feedback. And yet, providing feedback to your employees is crucial to the success of your team. How do you provide constructive criticism to your employees without triggering a defensive response that will result in simmering resentment and lower productivity?

1. Provide constructive criticism in private

“Managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity,” writes Robert C. Pozen in the Harvard Business Review. When it comes time to deliver constructive criticism, the opposite is true. Speak with your employee privately so as not to embarrass them in front of the rest of the team. This will also give you a chance to consider your own emotions and approach the situation professionally.

2. Prepare your employee to receive feedback

If you launch into a long list of complaints, you’re sure to put your employee on the defensive. Instead, help them prepare emotionally for a difficult conversation by saying something as simple as, “I’d like to offer some constructive feedback.” If the situation is less dire, you may even want to phrase it as a question. Asking, “Would you mind if I provided some constructive feedback?” gives your employee more control over the situation.

3. Be sincere and honest

The purpose of delivering constructive feedback is to help your employee thrive. Make sure to express this motivation loud and clear. If your employee feels that you are trying to help them instead of just picking on them, they will be much more receptive to what you have to say.

4. Be specific and clear

Be as specific as possible about the behavior that needs to change. Offer up clear examples and point out what was unacceptable. Include your reasoning. Asking your employee not to tell off-color jokes might not be effective until you explain that the jokes can make other employees feel uncomfortable and less likely to want to work with that person.

5. Collaborate on finding solutions

Show your employees respect by inviting them to determine solutions to the issues you’ve highlighted. This is also a great opportunity to offer support and even ask for their feedback. You can ask questions, like “Is there something I could have done to have made the situation better or clearer for you?” and “What can I do moving forward to help you succeed in this?” (Further reading: Effective management strategies that increase employee retention)

The five things you need to know about receiving employee feedback

In poorly functioning corporations, managers and executives are the last to know about a major problem. Workers who feel that they can’t speak truth to power instead allow problems to fester.

That’s why it’s critical to seek honest and ongoing feedback from your team. Hearing from your employees allows you to spot problems early and well as confront your own weaknesses so you can become better leaders. Asking for feedback also creates a more open culture where employees feel heard and empowered. Here’s how you can seek the employee feedback you need to help your team (and yourself) perform even better.

1. Establish an environment of trust

In an article for Forbes.com, Gina Gomez, a business and life coach, explains that “employees have some of the best ideas on how to improve processes and maximize effectiveness. However, if there’s no trust between the employer and employee, employees are less likely to share honest feedback…”

Let your employees know that you want and appreciate their feedback and be crystal clear that negative feedback won’t be punished.

2. Create anonymous polls and surveys

To make it even easier for your employees to give you authentic and hard-hitting feedback, provide anonymous surveys. Poll Everywhere makes this simple. You can create multiple choice questions or open-ended questions, and employees can complete the survey on their phones, computers, or tablets, no account required. 

3. Take employees out to “virtual leadership lunches”

Sometimes, the best way to put your employees at ease is to take them out of the office environment. Unfortunately, the recent coronavirus outbreak has temporarily halted opportunity for face-to-face interaction, but these powerful conversations can still take place in a virtual setting. Leadership lunches allow you to build or strengthen your rapport with your employees in a one-on-one or small group environment. This is a great opportunity to ask your employees how you can help them succeed in their jobs and what major challenges are impeding their work.

4. Try not to get defensive

It’s not always pleasant learning what employees really think, especially when it comes to their opinions of your leadership style and decisions. However, defensiveness will get you nowhere. Keep your feelings in check and evaluate the feedback with an open mind. What are your employees really saying, and how can you use the feedback to strengthen your team and be a better boss? (Further reading: 6 reasons corporate leadership training fails – and how you can fix it)

5. Follow through on feedback

If you ask your employees to share their thoughts, show them they are being heard. That may mean clearly articulating some of the common points of friction you discovered when reviewing the feedback or announcing changes as a result of the feedback. Even if you decide not to heed all of the feedback, be clear that you still heard it and explain why you’ve chosen to go in a different direction.

Start communicating today

Feedback can be incredibly valuable, but only when the receiver is receptive and willing to change. The mark of a great leader is a willingness to deliver constructive criticism to employees in a compassionate, empathetic, and effective way while also being open to receiving and acting on feedback from their team. Poll Everywhere can help you understand what your team is really thinking so you can deliver the changes they need to succeed.