Four Ways to Immediately Improve Your Feedback

30 Mar 2022 4:40 PM | Patrick Sweet (Administrator)

This post is by Stephanie Slocum, P.E.

You’re frustrated because you’ve lost a key person you’re managing, and now you’re stuck doing more work with fewer people. The trouble is, you’re not exactly sure why they left. More overtime, more late nights, more interviewing a replacement, and more training of someone new. In short: more work for you.

85% of employees say they are not engaged at work. Employees who are not engaged are at risk of quitting. At the same time, employees who agree with the statement: “I have received meaningful feedback in the last week,” are almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged at work. Frequent, meaningful feedback improves retention. Here are four ways to immediately improve it.

#1 Give feedback frequently

Don’t save up feedback for performance reviews. Giving and receiving feedback should occur a few times a week, as soon as possible after a feedback event. Practice giving impromptu, immediate feedback in small amounts (2 minutes) to make frequent feedback the norm. Feedback is critical because it helps employees improve their performance; don’t hoard it!

2 Get specific and actionable

The purpose of meaningful feedback is to improve future performance and includes:

  • A specific example of behavior you would like to see repeated or alternately improved
  • For behavior that needs to be improved, your suggestion or, better yet, a discussion of ideas to improve

“Your communication skills need work” is poor feedback because it focuses on the person, not the behavior. This feedback is not specific, and there are no ideas for improvement.

Contrast this with good feedback, provided immediately after a presentation: “When you presented in that meeting yesterday, I noticed you kept talking after making your point, which seemed to confuse the client as you got too deep into the details. In contrast, you are concise when I talk to you informally and know this subject. What are your ideas to bring that clarity into your presentations?”

#3 Mix positive and negative

The feedback sandwich – sandwiching one negative comment between two positive ones – is ineffective and outdated. Provide both types of feedback immediately after they occur, such that the yearly performance review becomes a summary of the feedback that happened during the year. Aim for an initial goal of 1:1 in giving positive to negative feedback.

Provide constructive negative feedback using straightforward yet compassionate language, and include a clear action plan for improvement that demonstrates you are committed to the employee’s success.

#4 Make feedback equitable

In performance reviews, women are 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback, while men receive critical constructive feedback. Women are 20% less likely than men to receive difficult feedback that helps them improve their performance. Top reasons managers cited for not giving women feedback include “concerned about seeming mean or hurtful,” “didn’t want them to dislike me,” and “concerned about an outburst.”

Women are also much more likely to receive personality criticisms when given feedback. Examples include phrases such as “watch your tone,” “stop being so judgemental,” “she’s coming on too strong,” “she’s too direct or abrasive”.

Giving feedback at similar frequencies and of similar types to everyone you’re managing means you are being fair to everyone. It benefits the team dynamic because no one is wondering where they stand. Provide constructive negative feedback using straightforward yet compassionate language, and include a clear action plan for improvement that demonstrates you are committed to the employee’s success. Want to go deeper on this topic with more examples and scripts for managers who need to give negative feedback? Check out two blogs on this topic: “How to Give and Receive Feedback that Doesn’t Suck” and “How to Get Actionable Feedback That Fuels Stem Career Growth.”

About the Author

Stephanie Slocum, P.E., is on a mission to normalize engineering, technology, and STEM women in leadership. She helps women become influential leaders while having a life, and she helps organizations committed to gender equity in STEM create work environments that retain and engage their women. Stephanie Slocum is the author of She Engineers and Founder of Engineers Rising LLC. Contact her at stephanie@engineersrising.com or visit her website at engineersrising.com

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