Delivering Lovingly Candid Employee Feedback: 8 Steps for Productive Constructive Communication

 

Many of us have read Kim Scott’s critically acclaimed book, “Radical Candor,” which highlights the importance of providing both positive and constructive feedback to employees. The book offers valuable insights into why we owe this feedback to our employees and outlines effective methods for delivering it.

I’m a big believer in giving consistent feedback. I truly believe we owe it to our employees. We owe them positive feedback—what they are doing well, what they are gifted in, what we want them doing more of. And we owe them constructive feedback.

• What is holding them back?
• What will keep them from achieving the next level?
• What causes their peers, supervisors, and those at higher levels to question their ability to rise to greater heights?
• What causes others to trust them to do their current job at the level expected of them?

Anyone who has worked with me for any period of time knows that I call direct feedback being “lovingly candid”. I believe it is important to say things in a way a person is able to hear. I want you to hear the truth but in ways you know I care about your growth and development, your future, and YOU.

Employee feedback isn’t just critical to the employee themselves. It’s vital for organizational success. Delivering lovingly candid feedback not only helps employees grow but also fosters a positive, open, and productive work environment built on trust and mutual respect.

Here are some thoughts on the importance of feedback and how you can achieve this delicate balance:

The Importance of Lovingly Candid Feedback

Fosters Trust and Respect: When feedback is delivered with genuine care, it builds trust between leaders and employees. Trust is the foundation of a strong workplace culture where employees feel valued and respected.

Encourages Continuous Improvement: Constructive feedback helps employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement. This continuous loop of feedback and development is crucial for both individuals and organizational growth.

Enhances Engagement and Motivation: Employees who receive regular, honest feedback are more engaged and motivated. Not only do they appreciate knowing where they stand and what they can do to improve, they are motivated to do more to improve their performance.

Demonstrates Investment in Employees: It takes an investment of time, energy, and emotion to give consistent feedback to your employees. What are you really demonstrating when you give consistent positive and constructive feedback? You’re demonstrating they matter.
They matter to the organization and to you. When you spend time thinking about them —their strengths, and their opportunities for growth, you are demonstrating their importance to you.

Creates Positive Culture: When an entire organization is built on open communication and feedback, setting and managing expectations, and mutual respect, the end result is a culture of cooperation, collaboration, contribution and community.

8 Steps for Delivering Lovingly Candid Feedback

  1. Prepare with Empathy: Before delivering feedback, put yourself in the employee’s shoes. Knowing them and how they are different than you, consider how they might feel and think in receiving your feedback. Empathy sets the tone for a compassionate conversation. Tailor your message based on how they are wired to receive your message.
  2. Be Specific and Objective: Avoid vague statements. Instead, provide specific examples of the behavior or performance in question. Use objective language to describe what you observed and the impact it had
  3. Balance Positives with Areas for Improvement: Start with positive feedback to acknowledge what the employee is doing well. This helps to build their confidence and makes them more receptive to areas for improvement.
  4. Use the “Sandwich” Technique Wisely: While the sandwich technique (positive-negative-positive) can be effective, ensure it doesn’t come off as insincere. The key is to be genuine in your praise and constructive in your criticism.
  5. Focus on Behavior, Not Personality: Critique actions, not the person. This approach helps employees understand the feedback is about their work and not a personal attack. It makes the feedback easier to accept and act upon.
  6. Encourage Dialogue: Feedback should be a two-way conversation. Encourage employees to share their thoughts and perspectives. This dialogue can provide valuable insights and demonstrates you value their input.
  7. Offer Support and Resources: Help employees improve by providing the necessary support and resources. Whether it’s additional training, mentorship, or time to develop new skills, showing your commitment to their growth reinforces the feedback.
  8. Follow Up: Feedback should not be a one-time event. Follow up with employees to discuss their progress and provide additional guidance if needed. This ongoing support underscores your investment in their success.

Overcoming Common Challenges

1. Dealing with Defensive Reactions: It’s natural for some employees to become defensive when receiving feedback. To address this:

  • Stay calm and patient, reaffirming your intentions to help them improve.
  • Use “I” statements to express your observations without sounding accusatory.
  • Encourage the employee to share their perspective, which can help diffuse defensiveness.
  • If needed, take a short break to allow emotions to settle before continuing the conversation.

2. Handling Emotional Responses: Emotions can run high during feedback sessions. To manage this effectively:

  • Acknowledge the employee’s feelings and show empathy.
  • If an employee becomes visibly upset, pause the conversation and allow them time to collect themselves.
  • Offer to reschedule if necessary to ensure the feedback is productive.
  • Consider having a neutral third-party present for particularly sensitive discussions.

3. Ensuring Consistency: Consistency in delivering feedback is key to its effectiveness:

  • Implement regularly scheduled check-ins to normalize feedback and make it a routine part of professional development.
  • Use a standardized format or template for feedback sessions to ensure all important points are covered.
  • Keep detailed notes on previous feedback sessions to track progress and maintain consistency in your approach.

4. Overcoming Your Own Discomfort: Many managers find giving feedback, especially constructive criticism, uncomfortable. To address this:

  • Practice delivering feedback in a safe environment, such as with a mentor or trusted colleague.
  • Remind yourself that providing feedback is crucial for your team’s growth and success.
  • Focus on the long-term benefits of honest communication rather than short-term discomfort.

5. Addressing Cultural Differences: In diverse workplaces, cultural differences can impact how feedback is given and received:

  • Educate yourself on cultural norms regarding communication and feedback in your team’s cultural backgrounds.
  • Be flexible in your approach, adapting your style to be most effective for each individual.
  • When in doubt, ask employees about their preferences for receiving feedback.

6. Balancing Positive and Constructive Feedback: Finding the right balance can be challenging:

  • Aim for a ratio of about 3:1 positive to constructive feedback to maintain morale while addressing areas for improvement.
  • Ensure that positive feedback is as specific and actionable as constructive feedback.
  • Avoid the “feedback sandwich” if it feels insincere; instead, be clear about the purpose of each feedback session.

By addressing these common challenges, you can create a more effective feedback culture in your organization, fostering growth, trust, and continuous improvement.

Embracing the Power of Candid Feedback

By following the steps outlined above and addressing common challenges, you can create a culture of open communication and continuous improvement.

Remember, the goal of feedback is not just to correct mistakes, but to nurture potential, build confidence, and align individual growth with organizational success. When delivered with empathy, specificity, and genuine care, feedback becomes a powerful tool for personal and professional development.

As leaders, we have the responsibility and privilege to shape our team’s future through our words and actions. By mastering the art of lovingly candid feedback, we not only enhance individual performance but also cultivate a workplace environment where trust, respect, and growth flourish.

To create a culture of continuous improvement and mutual respect through feedback:

  • Model consistent feedback with your direct reports
  • Set expectations for your leaders to practice consistent feedback throughout the organization
  • Regularly ask for feedback from others

 


The Author

Donna B. Hall is the SVP and General Manager of Robertson Lowstuter. Donna spent 37 years in media and 35 years with Cox Enterprises where she held various leadership roles across all traditional media platforms, including 25 years in the radio division and closing her media chapter as Publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has a passion for leadership and people development, honed over years of leading sales, marketing, research, news, content and P&L management.

Donna Hall
SVP / GM, Robertson Lowstuter, Inc.

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