Many organisations teach their staff how to give feedback so that they have the skills to be able to it effectively, but they often forget something critical: that it’s not the skill that’s the problem, it’s their mind. By providing the skill-set but not the mind-set, staff are never going to give constructive feedback in – well – a constructive way.

Consider this example:

Manager – Sally – has noticed that her staff member – Tony – is making a lot of unnecessary and silly mistakes in his work. Sally is getting increasing frustrated by this because it means she is having to spend her time reviewing everything he does (when she’s already over-loaded herself). Not only is this annoying but it puts her in an awkward position because he is expecting a promotion this year, and Sally can’t justify a promotion when she is having to check his work constantly.

While Sally knows she must give Tony the feedback that he needs to improve his attention-to-detail if he has a hope of being promoted this year, she feels very nervous and keeps putting it off. She realises that she has to do it and she knows how to do it, but she thinks she’ll upset him and make matters worse. Ultimately, she fears that Tony will leave which will put Sally under even more pressure.

The Outcome

You can imagine that one of two things might happen. One: she will not say anything and continue correcting his work (meaning additional workload for herself), and when it comes to promotion time, Tony will not be promoted. When he asks for an explanation and Sally tells him why, Tony will be shocked to hear this information for the first time and will most probably leave. Sally now really distrusts giving constructive feedback because she has further evidence to back up her thoughts that giving negative feedback makes the other person upset.

Two: she gives Tony the feedback, but she’s so nervous when she gives it that she says it quickly, directly and in a monotone voice. This suggests to Tony that either Sally doesn’t care about him or that the feedback is worse than she’s letting on. Tony leaves and Sally has further evidence that giving constructive feedback causes upset.

Bad Rap

From this example, it’s easy to see how constructive feedback gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t have to be this way if staff are taught to change their mind-set. There are several ways to do this but the two quickest and simplest are:

One: Understand the reasons why they don’t want to give the feedback, and listen carefully to their answer. In the example above, Sally didn’t want to give Tony constructive feedback because she didn’t want to upset him (which she thought would make him want to leave). This is a distortion and a generalisation – otherwise known as an assumption – so the way to deal with it is to challenge it with a meta model question, such as: “How is telling someone that they need to improve their attention-to-detail meaning that they’ll be upset?” Questions such as these challenge their assumptions and help them realise for themselves that what they think is not the truth.

Two: Help them to understand how their assumption is making it the truth because of their behaviour, and not the feedback. In the example above, Tony (rightly so) would have been annoyed at not having had the feedback earlier so that he could have done something about it, which would have made him distrust Sally and not want to work with her. That’s what would make him leave, not the feedback!


If you or your team would like to learn the skill and mind-set of how to give feedback, look here for further details on my Toolkit for Managers course or email me: