The best managers are coaches. But one commonality of coaches is that they deliver bad news with grace — as a result, their reports do not become frustrated or feel unappreciated, but instead find they want to do even better based on the constructive feedback. Of the many tips around how to deliver corrective feedback well, doing it in-person is perhaps the most important.

“Companies are now recognizing a huge skill gap in the ability to confidently and comfortably coach in person. They also know that it’s the best way to actually motivate higher performance,” WD Communications CEO Mike Mannon says.

Companies are now recognizing a huge skill gap in the ability to confidently and comfortably coach in person.

In today’s business climate, motivation is key to success. Knowledge workers aren’t productive based on the number of hours they put in, but how smart they work. Their relationships with colleagues and their direct manager define how engaged they will be.

Top companies including Deloitte and GE are rethinking their performance management processes in order to better motivate and retain top talent. But the change starts with managers. Here are some tips from experts on how to do in-person feedback well and drive a strong feedback culture.

Use Non-Verbal Communication

Franka Winchester of Pacific Crest Group once had a client who was dealing with high attrition. A survey showed that communication was a top issue for employees — the leader was coming off as offensive and aggressive in emails, which caused uncertainty and anxiety through the rest of the organization. This became an incentive for employees to look for work elsewhere.

“The biggest issue with not providing face-to-face feedback is miscommunication. In person, you can use inflection and tones to ease negative feedback,” Winchester says.

This makes it easier for the receiver to feel an equal, regardless of position — in turn, becoming less self-conscious or defensive. This makes makes processing the feedback much easier.

We want to make sure that we can convey the message authentically and also respond appropriately.

Jennifer Braganza, a coach at Exponential Success, agrees: “Feedback should be given face-to-face because body language and nonverbal make up the majority of how we communicate. Since feedback is such a sensitive topic, we want to make sure that we can convey the message authentically and also respond appropriately to the employee’s response — which could be nonverbal.”

Listen

Many leaders know from experience that when constructive feedback is sent virtually, it is often ineffective. Why? Because leaders need to listen in these conversations.

“It’s important to be present to clarify expectations, be interactive and fair, listen carefully, and establish a focus on the future. A leader needs to establish an environment that is conducive to the employee doing their best. And to let the employee know he/she cares about their professional development. I don’t believe that can be done remotely,” author Sharon Armstrong, SHRM-CP, PHR, CMF, says.

Of course, in organizations with remote workers, this can be a challenge.

Build Trust

“Face-to-face communication helps build authenticity and trust. In the virtual workplace, it’s important to have established trust in the manager-employee relationship before providing feedback or it won’t be well received,” Braganza says.

Feedback should be consistent, timely, and ongoing. Click To Tweet

If employees are remote, or teams are spread in offices across cities or even continents, it can be harder to get that in-person time for coaching. When possible, experts recommend doing a video conference, but in lieu of that, a strong feedback culture can help feedback be received well.

“What’s more important is that the manager creates a safe, supportive environment where constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is part of the working culture. Feedback should be consistent, timely, and ongoing. The goal of feedback is to facilitate learning and support the development of both the individual and the team so that everyone gets better each day,” Dr. Jené Kapela of Kapela Leadership Solutions says.

Be Genuine

There is no need to cloak corrective feedback. If you aren’t open about what went wrong, your employees will not know how to improve — which undermines your goals. Pierre Tremblay of Dupray describes his process:

“We structure our meetings using the ‘Sticky Band-Aid’ approach. We rip the band-aid off. Everyone hears the criticism and bad news right away. We then transition to the brainstorm stage, where we figure out how to fix our problems, and finally, the execution stage. Logistically, this is simply easier to do in a face-to-face setting.” The results?

“Employees felt closer together. Even better, they were all motivated by the fact that the criticism that they received wasn’t personal. But, they did feel like it was incumbent upon them to fix it or get better,” Tremblay says.

Allow for Interaction

Marian Thier of Expanding Thought says developmental feedback should be well thought-out beforehand. She uses a two-step process, observation and inquiry.

Meeting one-on-one regularly with your team members helps to build an environment of honesty and trust

“For example, the manager might say, ‘You have been late three of the last seven days’ [which is] factual and clear,” Thier says.

“Next is inquiry: ‘Please tell me what is going on that is causing your lateness’ — open and asking for participation. The interaction continues with other steps of the model that is so different from most ‘constructive’ feedback interactions. This is a conversation between two colleagues who discuss and problem-solve the issue.”

If the employee is merely told to stop coming in late, the employee is denigrated, there’s a power play, and the parties are driven apart, she says.

John Keyser of Common Sense Leadership suggests beginning with a question: “Would you like me to offer an observation which I believe will help you?”

“It is helpful to request feedback as well as offering it,” he says.

Receive Feedback

In a true culture of feedback, leaders expect and invite feedback on their own performance. Dupray’s Director of HR Pierre Tremblay says everyone from interns to C-level executives must learn to receive constructive feedback.

Feedback is a conversation between two colleagues who discuss and problem-solve the issue. Click To Tweet

“Come in with an open mind and a thick skin,” Tremblay says. “Guess what? You, your ideas, your team and even your company will be criticized – even if you’ve been performing extremely well. Leaving morally discouraged happens to a wide variety of people, from C-level executives to interns. Yet, this is what the strategy review entails. If you’re able to walk out of that meeting with your head held high and with an attitude that exudes motivation, then you’ve won.”

Be Consistent

Constructive feedback should not be a surprise – it takes practice to give it well, and practice to receive it, so you are doing yourself and your employees a favor when you give corrective feedback regularly.

“Meeting one-on-one regularly with your team members helps to build an environment of honesty and trust,” Fennemore Craig attorney James Goodnow says.

“In our firm’s culture, people respond to consistency. Now, that doesn’t mean boring – we’re a creative team that values creative thought and team members who go against the grain to improve our practice – but it does mean reliability. Team members feel secure when they know what to expect from you and each other. That means that in good times, as well as in crisis mode, you’re confident and respectful of others while communicating effectively, and your team members are never subject to wild mood swings or erratic behavior.”

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