Giving negative feedback, or criticism, to employees is part of being an effective manager
No-one likes being the “bad cop” and having to reprimand, correct, or criticise a team members performance. But it’s imperative that as a manager you do this, and do it properly.
Studies have found that managers (and this includes business owners) often give overly optimistic feedback when they are trying to deliver performance improvement commentary. This optimistic approach may be easier for the manager to deliver but the downside is the team member is left in doubt as to how serious their infraction, or level of performance, actually was.
Surely if it was serious my manager would make that clear to me
Unfortunately, as humans, managers are subject to what is called the Illusion of Transparency. This particular cognitive bias makes the message giver think their intentions are more clear to the message receiver than they actually are.
Soft words unintentionally hide the real meaning
Soft words used by the manager such as “I’d like you to pay more attention to your accuracy” could easily be misunderstood by the team member as meaning everything is generally OK.
However, the thinking inside the managers head may be more along the lines of, “This is the third time you have misquoted and it’s cost the company hundreds of dollars. It has to stop!”
Can managers be motivated to communicate more clearly?
In a paper published by Insead Business School the authors findings included:
- Managers felt more accountable and conscious of their actions when team members specially requested candid/direct feedback before a meeting occurred.
- Linking managers financial compensation with the clarity of feedback they provide was a very effective means of encouraging managers to communicate more clearly.
- The Illusion of Transparency occurs because “people aren’t motivated enough to examine and correct their communication methods.”
Management training and coaching can help
It’s also important to recognise that many managers have never received any training on how to improve their communication. It’s usually been a haphazard process of learning through trial and error and previous experiences.
Supporting managers with management coaching and training can be an excellent way of helping them improve their ability to communicate with team members and handle emotionally charged situations such as resolving conflict and conducting performance review discussions.
Tips for managers when giving negative feedback:
1. Be sure the negative feedback is well-founded.
Does the employee’s performance fall short of what has been stated in their Position Description? Has this issue been discussed with them before? Do you have facts at hand that clearly show the problem?
2. Take time to consider how you will approach the issue with the employee
Think through the best time to speak with the employee. Does this require an immediate response? Should it be covered during a regular performance review discussion with the individual? Think through the actual words you should be using to indicate clearly what the problem is. Think about how you would like the employee to be behaving or performing differently – specifically, what are you asking them to do?
3. Be prepared to handle any interpersonal conflict or disagreement you think may arise.
Take into account the employee’s personality and current situation. Refresh yourself on any previous issues or similar situations that may be brought up by the employee. Think about what you are saying from their perspective.
4. Consider how this negative feedback may need to be documented.
Does this feedback constitute a warning of any sort for the employee? Does it have implications for potential future actions brought by the employee, such as unfair dismissal claim? Would it be classified as ‘serious misconduct’ under Australian Fair Work interpretations?
Phew, that’s a lot of work isn’t it!
Effective communication is a critical component of being a great manager and leader. And yes it does take time to communicate more effectively and avoid cognitive biases such as the Illusion of Transparency.
If your goal is to build a high performing team and maximise employee engagement and productivity, striving for the best communication possible makes a great deal of sense.
Would you like to explore how to improve management skills or team performance in your business?