Pleasant way to give unpleasant feedback!


“Giving feedback” is a great tool or means to communicate your views about other’s performance. But most in every walk of life, especially corporates, mess up with it, rather than making it pleasant and purposeful! Let us look at how feedback from a supervisor to subordinate can be conducted to make it congenial for both; particularly if it happens to be adverse.

Take a pause and ponder over the purpose

Most mistakes happen for lack of understanding and sticking to the purpose for doing a thing! Hence, it is of utmost importance that you remind yourself of following tenets of a feedback.

If you are a supervisor

  1. You have a responsibility to understand and evaluate performance of your sub-ordinate fairly.
  2. Set goals for each employee, which are measurable as far as possible and lay down your expectations in writing.
    Maintain concise record of +/- deviations in performance of your team members on a regular basis.
    This is very important; so never dilute it!
  3. Go beyond biases and emotions against subordinate.
    It is not easy; but keep doing it.
  4. Remind yourself that you are sitting on destiny of someone, who has a family to support. You can make or mar it!
  5. Feedback is essentially meant to articulate your assessment in the manner that recipient can relate and register it and help him/her to improve; under no case it is meant for reprimanding or retribution!

If you correctly comprehend the above, you would realize that it is something, which would also help you immensely to develop your leadership skills!

If you are a subordinate

  1. Your endeavors should be to align what you do to meet the goals set and expectations of your supervisor.
    Don’t ignore or undermine importance of above.
  2. You are an examinee, who should be interested in knowing result of your performance. You should definitely make your self-assessment; but be clear that you are not entitled to give actual marks to self. That is the job of examiner i.e. your supervisor.
  3. Treat feedback as extremely valuable tool to learn direction of your efforts.
    If it is good, then your direction is right. If it is not, you have to know what is right and change your track and gears accordingly.

Be offbeat and break off from traditional methods

Research shows that conventional methods of giving feedback don’t bring great results and trigger a change. These actually bring lot of maladies. Here below is what you can:

  1. Feedback should be as frequent as you feel the need to help improve performance of your team; but any case not less than twice a year.
    Avoid blunder of timing it with annual wage increases and promotions.
  2. Take away the hype around feedback. It should be life as usual.
  3. Before calling a team member for feedback session, ask him/her (now onward, he/his has been used without any gender bias) to do self-assessment.
  4. As supervisor:
    1. Don’t jump straight into feedback discussion; ask subordinate how he is doing and make him comfortable.
    2. Ask employee to tell you about his self-assessment and listen to him carefully and take down your notes.
    3. Then tell employee you now want to share your thoughts, however adverse or good these may be, and help him to improve.
    4. In self-assessment, if employee has presented a picture that everything is hunky-dory with his performance contrary to your assessment, then advise him:
      1. What are the gaps you see and cite some examples.
      2. Do not be critical; but be candid.
      3. If employee goes offensive or defensive, give him patient hearing.
        Normal tendency of an employee in such a case is to pass buck to anything else; except self.
      4. If employee’s arguments make sense, be prompt to accept (but then you need to focus on quality of your own assessment or flaw in system which is feeding information to you).
      5. But, usually when one is offensive or defensive, there exist deficiencies!
        So, you have an opportunity to coach him that how attitude to lay blame elsewhere by itself is crux of problem and prevents him to perform well. Now, give direction how he can improve.
      6. If employee agrees with your assessment effortlessly, compliment him handsomely. Such employees have best possibility to change.
    5. Include your views on employee’s sincerity, focus, dedication, diligence and other personal qualities with advice how to improve or strengthen same.
    6. Demonstrate your commitment to reward employees commensurate with results they show.

This way, you would be free from conflicts during feedback session, establish your credibility, enhance employee’s values and upgrade your own leadership skills!

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10 Comments
  • Murli Lohia
    Feb 24,2014 at 12:27 pm

    Transferred from LinkedIn

    Sakharkar, Rajendra (Sr. Manager Engineering ( Process Control Systems) at Amgen Inc) wrote:

    “This is great information to remind myself when and how to provide timely feedback and ensure professionalism is maintained at all the times. Raj”

    • Feb 24,2014 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks a lot! You have orchestrated your views very well. I am sure you would reap benefits from same!!

  • Rudra
    Jan 30,2014 at 12:12 am

    Hmmm… but I would beg to differ with your 4th point – do you actually think we have the right to sit on someone’s destiny? Or someone else can sit on our destiny? Isn’t the destiny in our own hands? If you’re doing this or allowing someone to do this, I am sorry but you’re in a wrong profession then!! Agree we or they can “influence” the destiny to an extent, but can’t rule it – certainly not…

    Though this fact may be 100% true, but a Supervisor or a Subordinate should completely wipe this thought out of their minds that they are ‘supporting’ someone’s family or their family is been ‘supported’ by someone…

    This doesn’t just apply to Supervisors/Subordinates, but to everyone!

    Couldn’t agree more with the rest of the post, especially “Be offbeat and break off……” section, but don’t know why the above point just not going down my throat!!

    Not sure if my above comments fall under “Pleasant way to give unpleasant feedback”!! 😀 😀 🙂

    • Jan 31,2014 at 12:39 pm

      So far as I am personally concerned, every feedback, regardless how it is given, has its value and brings an opportunity for me. So, I can only be thankful to you and those, who believe in giving feedback!

      A supervisor, boss or a team leader is charged with responsibility to evaluate performance of a subordinate and his/her views play a key role in salary increases, promotions and giving new opportunities, which have major influence on subordinate’s career progression. Now, no one has real clue what destiny is; but, everyone talks about it routinely. If an employee progresses well, it does impact his/her life and the means, which he/she can afford for his/her family. In classical terms, employee would believe that his/her destiny is shaping well.

      So, who has a role to play? Not only employee but also his/her supervisor has a definite role! Post is not suggesting that supervisor controls employee’s destiny (though, we can’t wish away the fact that supervisor does, in the way destiny is understood) and it only talks about sitting on it. Essence of point 4 is to evoke human and unbiased way of thinking on the part of supervisors, who are often play by prejudices!

      I hope, I have clarified the spirit of this point.

      • Rudra
        Jan 31,2014 at 2:40 pm

        Thanks for valuing my feedback! 🙂

        Yes, your additional comments perfectly make sense, and so does your original post! The only thing I was trying to emphasize on was that one should not completely depend on the fact that he’s sitting on someone’s destiny (this will create needless omnipotence) or someone is sitting on his (this will create anxiety). That’s what I think!

        Personally speaking, I would never let my subordinate feel that his salary is “influenced” by me. Again, I know it’s influenced, but I would never let him realize that. In-fact, I would like to use a different term, maybe his “Performance”, but talking to someone regarding money, salary, destiny, family is a too straight-forward and sensitive thing.

        And again, I think if someone has the right capability and self-belief, he can ‘earn’ his financial strength anywhere in the World!

        I understand you’re very much correct in your statements, but somewhere I feel I am also correct to some extent – well 90% if not 100! 🙂

        • Jan 31,2014 at 5:58 pm

          Thanks a lot; you are perfectly within your right to believe that you are 100% right!

          I appreciate your views. Let’s reckon the reality that unless you are in your own business, you would have a supervisor any where in the world and he/she has a role and typical views.

  • Tushar Kulkarni
    Jan 24,2014 at 7:27 pm

    Hello Sir,

    Absolutely simple but really brillient thoughts. Thanks a lot for sharing and being always as a real guide..

    Best Regards,
    Tushar

    • Jan 24,2014 at 10:09 pm

      I highly appreciate for your captivating feedback! I can’t thank you enough for that!!

  • Sudhir Agashe
    Jan 24,2014 at 6:49 pm

    Well said. It is really a difficult task to perform.This article has given me an insight about how feedback sessions can be converted into healthy discussions and build strong bonds with team members.

    • Jan 24,2014 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks a lot for your feedback! You have orchestrated your conclusions very well!!

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