Serious middle aged executive manager explaining colleague online workFeedback is critically important in any organization because it helps employees at all levels identify areas in which they stand out and skills they need to develop. Yet providing face-to-face feedback remains one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. And that’s true whether you’re a CEO or a lower-level leader.

Positive feedback is typically easy to provide, of course, but it’s the negative feedback that’s often so much more difficult to deliver effectively, especially in person. It’s simple: Many people have trouble delivering criticism. And there’s always the risk that the employee will respond unfavorably, creating conflict — something we as humans try to avoid. It’s no surprise, then, that surveys show that many business leaders feel uncomfortable providing feedback to their employees, either during scheduled review sessions or on a day-to-day basis. Consider data from Harris Poll:

  • 69% said that they’re often uncomfortable providing in-person feedback to employees
  • 37% said they have been reluctant to provide feedback if they thought the employee might respond unfavorably
  • 20% said they avoid sharing mistakes they have made, even if doing so could help illustrate an important lesson
  • 16% found it difficult to speak face-to-face to employees, preferring e-mail interactions instead

Does any of this sound like you? Let’s face it: Effective person-to-person feedback can be difficult and uncomfortable to deliver, but it is much more effective than delivering the same news electronically. You likely do a lot of your communicating with your employees via e-mail. And some amount of feedback via e-mail is OK. However, you’ll want to make sure you’re not providing feedback only via e-mail, or that you’re providing important feedback that way. It’s also vital to give face-to-face feedback regularly. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before you provide it. No employee should have to wait for their yearly or quarterly employment review to know where they stand.

The key to effective feedback is constructive criticism, of course. That involves giving a thorough explanation of any issue with the employee’s performance, how it affects the company’s goals and how you’re going to help the employee improve. It’s vital to make sure your employee knows why the improvements you’re asking for are important. Once you’ve delivered the feedback, you’ll want to check in regularly and provide additional feedback on the employee’s progress. You’ll also want to acknowledge when the employee has rectified the problem. It’s important that employees know that they have responded fully to your feedback so they can have the satisfaction of knowing they have accomplished their goal.

Some leaders fall into the loop of providing only negative feedback, positive feedback or infrequent feedback. Instead, provide regular feedback — positive and if needed, negative — and make sure each time you do you listen to your employees and give them a chance to talk to you and ask questions. In-person feedback, early and often, is the cornerstone of effective leadership.

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