Have you had butterflies in your stomach before entering your manager’s cabin for a feedback discussion? Do you have an uneasy feeling each time your work and contribution are judged? Chances are your manager is as worried about the discussion as you are. Giving feedback effectively is an art, a tightrope walk for any leader who needs to strike the perfect balance between being too harsh and too gentle.

Leaders who want to truly enable their team members could consider the following points when giving feedback:

Listen actively

The process of giving feedback can’t be a monologue. Managers must offer a safe space for the employee to share their perspective and strike a healthy conversation. As an HBR 2020 review reads, "Rather than relying on a feedback hierarchy, managers should consider a partnership model that distributes power and increases two-way conversation with their employees, leading to a more authentic and revealing feedback experience that fosters trust, flows with the rhythm of work, and sets the conditions for positive, lasting change".

When managers actually listen, they may be able to tune in and identify the true reason why an employee’s performance is not up to the mark. Was it only work-related or did the employee have a personal crisis? Did they not feel supported? The feedback process can lead to necessary changes that would help the employee thrive.

Create the ground for good reception

Words of appreciation and acknowledgment of good work can set the tone for a successful feedback process. The idea is to put the employee in a receptive zone rather than pushing them to have their guard up. The language and tone used during the feedback process can make all the difference. Managers can aim to depersonalize the process and prepare in advance so that the process is structured and emotions can be handled well. The employee would then leave the discussion room feeling energized rather than discouraged.

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Design the way forward

While the feedback process must have a good start, a good ending is equally important. What is the way forward for the team members? What changes are needed? What are the new goals? How would they be supported? Discussing this during the feedback process can provide a sense of direction and motivation to the employee on the way forward. Involving employees in the change process ensures that they are held accountable for the next steps. Setting milestones and having shared future goals can help them feel valued and respected.

Difficult as it may be, managers cannot avoid giving feedback. The intention, however, should be to truly aid their team members and help them reach their highest potential. As Bill Gates puts it, "We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve."

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