Feedback: Avoid These Pitfalls!

In general, the biggest mistake that managers make with feedback is not giving enough of it, which deprives your team of not only positive reinforcement about what they’re doing right, but also important information about what they could be doing better.

But once you’re resolved to start giving more feedback, there are a few other pitfalls to watch out for too. Here are four possible pitfalls to make sure you avoid.

Pitfall #1: Being led by assumptions

Sometimes managers make assumptions about what caused a particular behavior or problem, which can not only lead to miscommunications about hurdles the work is facing, but also leave your team members feeling frustrated that you don’t understand their perspective. Be careful to not ascribe reasons or motives that you might not know for sure. Share what you saw, in the most objective terms you can, and then ask your staff what’s going on, without assuming that you already know the answers to the questions you’re asking.

YES: “I’m concerned that the meeting didn’t go as we’d planned.”

NO: “Because you didn’t care enough about preparing for the meeting, we weren’t prepared and missed our one shot.”

Pitfall #2: Giving only positive or only negative feedback

If your staff is only hearing the negative, they might not (a) have their positive performance reinforced or (b) know that you recognize their improvement and effort. Build credibility and rapport with your team by noticing (and saying something) when they do awesome things. Not only does this reinforce those great behaviors and ensure you see more of them, corrective feedback is much easier to hear, and easier to implement, from a manager who you know cares about you and has recognized your past achievements.

Pitfalll #3: Giving feedback in public or group situations

While most people will agree that it’s better to know about problems than not to, hearing that you’re not doing what you need to be doing can be tough. Don’t make your staff member process this in front of his or her peers, and don’t let those peers think that their issues will be aired in front of everyone too.

Pitfall #4: Not preparing when the stakes are high

If you need to have a major conversation about a sensitive topic, like progress that a staff member needs to make to stay in her role, don’t wing it! Spend a few minutes thinking through what you want to convey and what language to use. (Our Feedback Worksheet can help you sort through your thoughts to ensure that the conversation is as clear and productive – and painless – for you both as reasonably possible.)