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Getting over the fear of providing employee feedback

employee feedback

This guy has no fear of providing employee feedback for improvement (and a little something extra)

Employee feedback is hard

As a manager, one of the most common, anxiety causing moments is when we need to provide “ employee feedback” for improvement.  No one wants to tell a colleague they are doing something wrong. A few decades ago, you could yell, scream and abuse employees. As a good friend in the military explained to me, he liked being a manager in the military a lot more than being a manager in corporate America. When he wanted something done, he just raised his voice and shouted the order. Dropping a few F-bombs wasn’t frowned upon. There was no argument or backtalk and if there was, he could do something about it. Ahh, the good ol’ days.

Today, we provide a few rational reasons you why you shouldn’t become anxious when providing employee feedback for improvement. In addition to the rationale, I hope to give you some internal motivation. The goal is to move managers to have these conversations earlier than later.

We are doing the employee a favor

As a manager, we are doing the employee a favor when we provide employee feedback for improvement. Employees are not mind-readers. They don’t know what managers are thinking or when they are disappointed. If the employee doesn’t know to change their behavior, we can’t blame them for continuing poor behavior. It makes sense that we should explain the company/department expectations so employees are not unknowingly embarrassing themselves, the department or you as their manager.    

Assume good intent

One way to make the employee feedback conversation easier is to approach the conversation with good intent. Recognize that very few employees show up at work with a personal goal of making life difficult for the rest of the department. Most employees want to do the right thing and leave a good impression. It may seem as if this is the case but rarely is this true. Employees early in their career may not realize that their behavior is having a negative impact it is. Values and expectations are different in the workplace than they were in college or on a Saturday night. Often times, just bring awareness to the situation can be a remedy.

Most people want to know when they have food in their teeth and when they are unknowingly making a mistake.

EG: Many of us have heard stories of being asked about age or religion during an interview. The candidate being interviewed becomes offended, horrified, and angry. They then swear off working for the company even if a great offer is presented. My advice here is that the interviewer probably didn’t realize that this was an inappropriate question that could put the company into jeopardy. Very few employees want to offend a candidate or expose their company to corporate liability. They just don’t realize that these questions put the company at risk.   

We can bring the horse to water

Keep in mind that as a manager, it isn’t our responsibility to fix all employees. It is our job to provide the tools for success to the employee, but we can’t force them to use the tools or take advantage of the opportunity. We are doing what we can when we have the hard conversation, give examples of good and bad behavior, and are specific and transparent. The employee needs to meet us halfway. Managers shouldn’t beat themselves up emotionally or feel guilty if they are not able to “fix” their employee. 

It’s our job

As a manager, our job is to make our bosses job easier. Anybody can give an employee a raise or kudos for a job well done. Our boss doesn’t need to pay us a yearly salary to hand out employee raises. As a manager, we are being paid to “manage” the employee(s). If we are not managing our employees to improve, our boss doesn’t need us and can find someone that will. If we want bigger opportunities and more responsibility, we need to prove that we can perform well in our current job, specifically, the hard tasks.

We will lose our top performers

If we don’t provide the “feedback for improvement” to the employee that is falling short, the top performers in the department will lose faith in us as managers. Top performers will look to management and leadership to keep the work environment fair and just. This means everyone is pulling their weight and acting according to the company values. Our priority should be to keep our top performers happy vs. worrying about upsetting our low performers with feedback for improvement.

It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it

When I have been “coached for improvement” there were plenty of lessons I didn’t appreciate. I heard the accusation, (I mean words), “You did this!”, “You didn’t do that!” and saw a pointing finger in my face. I wanted to grab that finger and snap it off the insecure hand that was shaking it. The lessons I did appreciate were supportive and positive, especially during the “first conversation on the topic”. Of course, if you have to tell me to do the same thing 4 times, fire my ass.

Communication style

Using the word “we” and “our” vs. “you” will identify that you and your colleagues are on the same team.  EG:

I noticed that YOU are coming in late every day and it isn’t fair to the rest of the team.


I noticed that “we” have been coming in late to work the last few days. Is everything OK outside of work?

The word “You” in this context can sound like an accusation and separates the two of us as being on opposing teams. The word “We” can show we are on the same side and showing support.

Leave the emotion out of it.  

The other thing that I don’t appreciate during a coaching moment is a conversation that is too loud or too long. Raising your voice doesn’t help get your voice across, it shows the employee is getting under our skin. Hearing the same message 10 times in the same conversations isn’t 10 times better than hearing it once. Referring back to the “Bring the horse to water” axiom, bringing the horse to water 10 times doesn’t mean they are going to drink.

For every action, there is an equal reaction

When we raise our voice, we are probably generating a similar response from the employee. More than likely, the employee is internalizing the employee feedback and their frustration. Which is why we don’t always need to belabor the point or raise our voice.  If we are raising our voices, we can be pretty sure the listening is raising their “inside” voice against you. 

Provide alternative examples of behavior

One book I really like is titled FYI, For Your Improvement by Michael Lombardo. This book delivers 100’s of job competencies’ and examples of what these competencies look like when someone is not taking advantage of the competency, using the skill effectively, and overusing the skill. I always have a copy at my desk because there are concrete examples of behavior and resources on how to improve the behavior.

Next time you are anxious about having a tough conversation, review the above list. With the above in mind, the conversation should be easier.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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