Tips on giving constructive feedback even when you're anxious
The Sector > Workforce > Leadership > Struggling to give your team tough feedback? You’re not alone, expert says

Struggling to give your team tough feedback? You’re not alone, expert says

by Freya Lucas

August 24, 2023

Giving constructive feedback is a core component of every leader’s role, whether they are running a room, or running a large early childhood education and care (ECEC) business. 


Despite the challenges involved, there are times when issues such as underperforming, failing to meet expectations, or the poor handling of an incident and its response must be addressed. 


When done correctly, this type of feedback can help team members to improve, can facilitate professional and personal growth, and can serve as a form of mentorship. 


When delivered poorly, however, these “tough feedback” conversations can lead to poor morale, team members feeling chastised, and in some cases, can expose the leader to allegations of behaving in an illegal manner. 


Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder that some leaders approach these conversations with a sense of dread. 


In the piece below, executive coach Melody Wilding, author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work offers some advice on how to navigate the sense of discomfort and apprehension that may come with difficult conversations, “so you can say what needs to be said”. 


The information below has been adapted from a piece which originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Find the original here


Think beyond binary


Many leaders avoid confrontation assuming that bringing up issues will ruin relationships or be construed as micromanaging. 


While those beliefs may be rooted in previous experiences of rejection and failure, they reflect inaccurate and binary thinking, Ms Wilding said. 


“In actuality, it’s possible to be both assertive and direct without damaging relationships or earning a reputation as the ‘difficult manager,’ she continued. 


Instead, she encourages leaders to focus on what can be gained by speaking up, and on the possible rewards which come from clear communication. As well as helping managers to feel more confident, speaking up can help leaders to make the work environment more peaceful and productive or help a team member to develop and grow. 


“When you look more closely, you’ll see that expressing your thoughts, feelings, and opinions is far more beneficial than stuffing them down and suffering the consequences,” Ms Wilding added.


View feedback as a tool


Team members crave meaningful, candid feedback, and while many long for it, few receive it. 


When team members don’t feel like they are getting honest feedback, their engagement scores drop, while those team members who work under leaders who rank in the top ten per cent at giving honest feedback rank in the top 23 per cent for engagement. 


“It’s not fair to deprive your team of information they need to grow,” Ms Wilding said. 


“When you reframe conflict as a healthy, normative part of leadership, it loosens the anticipatory anxiety you may feel broaching difficult topics with others. Next time you have to give feedback, take a deep breath and remember, you’re not causing a conflict, you’re guiding your people toward growth. You’re not criticising; you’re nurturing. And you’re certainly not being a villain; you’re being the leader they need.”


Anticipate the eventualities 


For some leaders and managers, the fear of the unknown, and wondering how the recipient of the feedback will react can hold them back from speaking up. 


You can calm your anxiety and handle uncertainty using the worst case/best case/most likely tool,” Ms Wilding believes. 


“Consider the worst that could happen. If your employee cries, for example, how would you handle it? Perhaps you’d take a time out. Then consider the best that could possibly happen to foster more optimism. Finally, consider what is most likely, which is usually somewhere between the two extremes.”


Plan for a strong start


Making a plan for starting the meeting off on a strong note can help leaders to feel more confident and in control. 


“Being in control from the get-go can provide a confidence boost and allows you to set a respectful tone for the conversation,” Ms Wilding said. 


“Using ‘I’ statements whenever possible helps ensure you communicate directly without vacillating or minimising your concerns simply because you’re scared,” she continued. 


It’s also important to be specific, and to call out the exact nature of the problem you’re having. 


Rather than saying “you let the team down” be specific, and say something like “I’m concerned that the other people in the room have been completing your documentation and incident reports.” 


Keep it regular 


Feedback should be regular and reliable, Ms Wilding said, not an occasional blast. Making feedback a habit ensures that issues don’t pile up and become major conflicts. 


Regular feedback also helps leaders to become more comfortable with the process of giving feedback, and lessens some of the anxiety. A great way to begin this, she continued, is through regular one on one sessions with team members, or even through “pre mortems” where potential risks, problems or issues are identified and discussed. 


Creating a positive feedback culture will give you opportunities to flex your newfound assertiveness skills while also strengthening rapport and trust with your team. And that, as a leader, is one of the best things you can hope for,” Ms Wilding said in closing. 


To access the original coverage of this story, please see here

Download The Sector's new App!

ECEC news, jobs, events and more anytime, anywhere.

Download App on Apple App Store Button Download App on Google Play Store Button