Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

3 Tactics To Improve How You Give Feedback To Your Employees

As my kids revel in the freedom that comes with summer vacation, reflecting on my daughter’s end-of-year report card got me thinking about how we offer feedback to our employees. As was the case in previous years, she once again earned grades well above the class average. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement as her social studies mark was just barely higher than the class average.

In most cases, this is where a parent is supposed to ask the child why they’re not doing as well in this subject as they are in others. In fact, I recall from my own childhood that such differences in my grades would spur on comments of how I wasn’t ‘applying myself enough’ in this particular class. Indeed, sometimes these lower marks can move the focus from how well our children are doing in other classes to worrying about why they are having difficulties in this one particular subject.

I think this is why we all dread feedback from our leaders or other superiors – since our childhood days, we’ve become accustomed to getting ‘reviews’ telling us about our weak spots and being told what we need to do to ‘apply ourselves to do better’. Compare this to the number of times we were cheered on for those areas we accomplished in, or being asked what exactly allows us to succeed in these fields that we could perhaps use to address those areas that we’re not so good in.

Granted, there has to be an understanding that even if we try our hardest, there will always be skills or abilities that remain outside of our grasp. And yet, here is where the real role of leadership kicks in – where these feedback sessions are used to learn more about your employees. Specifically, the goal should be to understand what are their motivations and passions so that you can better direct the course your employees are taking to match both their aptitude and abilities. Employing such measures will reap benefits not only for the organization, but for the employee as well.

But how can leaders provide such feedback when most employees have developed an aversion to these conversations? Here are three tactics leaders can employ in order to make the process of giving feedback feel less challenging and more beneficial for their employees.

1. Focus more on leveraging your employee’s strengths than trying to fix their weaknesses
When offering feedback to your employee, it’s only natural to want to mention elements of your employee’s performance that is in need of some improvement. Clearly, this has some merit, as the goal is to help them become more proficient in their role within the team. Where problems arise, though, is when we focus solely on their weaknesses and not on their overall contribution to the organization.

As such, a better approach is to look at the areas where they are excelling to find out why they are performing so well in that particular task, and figuring out how that can be applied to the part of their work they are having difficulty with. This will allow you to help your employee to learn to use their strengths across different areas, while gaining a better appreciation for what aspects of their work will require the help of their team mates for them to complete the task.

It’s important to remember that the opportunity for growth for your employee and your organization lies not in addressing your employee’s weaknesses, but on building their ability to contribute their existing strengths to your shared goal.

2. Listen more than you talk when offering feedback
On the surface, this might sound counter-intuitive. After all, in order to give feedback, one needs to tell the individual in question what actions of theirs have caught your attention. However, this tactic becomes more understandable if we remember that the whole point of these exchanges is to provide insight and information to the recipient in order to help them sustain or improve their performance.

In order to make sure this is what we obtain as the outcome of our feedback, it’s important that we take time to listen and observe what their reaction is to our comments in order to see if the message is being properly received. By maintaining a focus on how they are responding to our feedback, leaders can adjust their approach accordingly to ensure that these conversations empower their employees to excel, as opposed to feeling unappreciated or worse, being viewed as incompetent by the organization’s management.

3. Allow employees to respond to feedback after conversation is over
I remember one of the bosses I worked for several years ago used to ask at the end of our biannual reviews if I had any questions about his feedback. If I replied during our meeting that I didn’t have any, he would respond by simply treating the whole feedback process as completed and expecting that I’d just return to work to start implementing whatever points he brought up.

Undoubtedly, this is a fairly common attitude among leaders to view any lack of reaction after giving feedback as being a sign that the situation has been dealt with or resolved. However, it’s important that we remember that while we’ve been considering the issues behind our feedback for some time, this might all come as either a surprise or news to our employee. We should also understand that in these moments of providing feedback – whether good or bad – that the employee will feel a little vulnerable and need some time to reflect and digest the information they were just given before they can offer their response to it.

As such, to make these feedback sessions truly beneficial for the recipient, encourage them to seek you out after the conversation is over to discuss any thoughts or concerns they might have. Again, as with the first tactic, this is an important approach to take as it will not only ensure that your employee has perceived the message you were trying to impart correctly, but it will also foster a sense of open communication between your team members and yourself.

Unquestionably, offering feedback to employees is one of the responsibilities many leaders struggle with, possibly a reason why this vital communication tool is only used on a yearly basis and in a formalized structure in most organizations. Applying the above three tactics to your feedback approach will not only help this process become easier to do on a more frequent basis, it will also help it serve the role it’s meant to perform in your organization – of helping your employees to succeed to the fullest of their abilities.

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  1. On July 8th, 2010 at 7:58 AM Heather Stubbs said:

    In the years when I was teaching public school, I attended a weekend workshop on mentoring. The main thing I remember is this formula: Praise three things before making one suggestion for improvement. The praise allows the "mentee" to relax and know that they ARE doing some things well. Only when they are relaxed and not defensive will they be able to take advantage of a suggestion for further growth. I found it to be a very effective formula. It worked when mentoring new teachers, when teaching private music lessons, and now in teaching presentation skills workshops. I'll bet it would be useful when giving feedback to employees.

  2. On July 8th, 2010 at 1:01 PM Caroline said:

    Perfect timing for this great post! This week, I’ve been blogging about feedback, so we must be on the same wavelength!

    I really enjoyed this article, especially the part about listening to make sure our feedback is properly received. Its so important that feedback isn’t misconstrued– if so, employees can shut down and feel very negatively about themselves. Feedback is about growth– its a gift!

  3. On July 8th, 2010 at 9:51 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    @Heather – Hi Heather,

    That's some good advice on how to start giving feedback by starting with some positives before discussing areas that need improvement. I think one of the key reasons why this works is because the focus is on the recipient of the feedback in providing an environment where they'll feel comfortable and willing to hear the ideas and insights about their performance.

    Thanks Heather, for sharing your experience with this. I think this definitely helps with the process of giving feedback.

    @Caroline – Thanks Caroline and welcome to my blog. I agree with you that giving feedback should be viewed as a gift, not only by the recipient but also by the giver. When viewed from such a vantage point, it's easier to understand why it's important to take into consideration how your feedback is being perceived since the goal is obviously help the person and not make them feel worse about themselves.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts about feedback on your blog.

  4. On July 8th, 2010 at 1:06 PM Drew Hawkins said:

    Really liked your mention regarding listening. After all, reviews are all meant to ultimately improve performance. Listening to employees is a great way to find out more about what's going on day-to-day for them in order to come to a more efficient solution to improve things.

  5. On July 9th, 2010 at 10:35 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Drew. I think it's important that we all recognize that feedback is just another type of communication between a leader and their employees, one that shouldn't be confused as being a directive, but an opportunity to collaborate with each team member to strengthen their efforts and contributions to the shared goal.

    Appreciate your adding your thoughts to this discussion, Drew.

  6. On July 9th, 2010 at 12:41 AM Jim Matorin said:


    I call your sound advice the sandwich technique – works everytime.


  7. On July 11th, 2010 at 1:54 PM Mary Jo Asmus said:

    Tanveer, I think I was one of those odd people who craved feedback more than my managers would enjoy giving it. I went 12 years – yes, 12 years in human resources (yes, human resources) in a Fortune 500 company without a performance review and without a significant conversation with my manager on my performance. I begged for it, and found it hypocritical that HR demanded that the rest of the organization give formal and informal feedback. I was told "no news is good news" when I asked, but would have appreciated at least hearing the good news!

    I've always thought that refusal to provide performance feedback is due to a lack of courage on the part of the manager. If they can learn the skill, they will find that it can be beneficial to them and the organizaton. Thanks for adding to the conversations on feedback.

  8. On July 12th, 2010 at 8:27 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Mary Jo for sharing your experience with this. I agree with you that part of the problem we see with feedback in today's workplace is the perceived lack of value for giving it, as well as a lack of courage in some for wanting to perform this task. Of course, often this is masked by excuses about people not having the time to provide feedback to your employees. But as we all know, if something has value or if it's something you're willing to summon the inner strength to do for the benefit of others, somehow you'll find that there is in fact time to get involved in such conversations.

    Thanks again Mary Jo for sharing your experience and thoughts on this. As always, I enjoy the insights you bring to the conversations.

  9. On July 12th, 2010 at 1:25 PM Marcia Ogilvie said:

    Mary Jo I totally agree that those who do not give feedback are cowards. It is in their best interest to give feedback ongoing, it could be their saviour in a lawsuit. In the 15 yrs I have been management, I find that people do want to know how they are doing and we should tell them regularly than wait until its too late to improve.

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