5 best phrases for constructive feedback

One of the most important, and yet, most challenging role of being a manager is providing feedback to employees. Providing the necessary critical assessment to ensure their juniors are continuously improving and being challenged is not only required during annual reviews, but in real-time. Every boss man and boss lady has their own delegation style, but perfecting the fine art of respectfully and effectively managing others with spoken word takes practice. And for many, the courage to potentially ruffle feathers.

As workplace expert, Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., explains managers sometimes struggle to deliver pinpoint and articulate areas of improvement, for fear it can upset their employee, cause them to grow resentful, or even less productive. “To avoid this reaction, delivery method is incredibly important. The employee needs to feel valued, respected, and capable. The feedback will help the employee to accomplish required goals more efficiently, creating a win-win for everyone,” she explains.

“I see where you’re going with this … ”

After giving your next-in-line a project you felt they were ready for, they started off in the right direction, but ended up missing a turn, and now they’re feeling a little lost. Business coach Christine Agro suggests this phrase as a starting point, since it acknowledges that while there was work done and it isn’t necessarily accurate, the employee isn’t in trouble. Instead, they just need you to redirect them. From here, you can allow them to explain their approach, then you can explain how to realign with the core goals. Then together, create a better and targeted roadmap to success.

“Here’s what I need you to improve.”

There are times to use colorful, encouraging language and boost the ego of an entry-level professional, and then there are times when cutting to the chase is more impactful. Hakim says when providing guidance to a younger employee, laying out their strengths and weakness in black and white can make your expectations easier to understand.

“It’s okay to be direct by saying ‘Here’s what you’re doing correctly.’ and ‘Here’s where you need to improve,’ ” she explains. “Good employees want to improve. Clear and direct messaging is critical and, often, well-received.”

When they have an outline of could use improvement and what is going well, they are better prepared to not only take proactive steps to grow, but they will feel more comfortable asking you questions since you provided easy-to-understand feedback in a calm, kind and professional manner.

“We are off to a great start.”

Even with deadlines set, designs in motion and a continuous stream of emails, your project is already falling behind. Your employee was meant to be at the helm of the deliverables and you may be frustrated with their performance, but it is important to recognize it is not a one-man or one-woman show to get a job done.

This is why career expert Jill Tipograph stresses the power of the word ‘we.’ Regardless if you were at fault or not, making yourself part of the group creates trust and camaraderie.

“You are not trying to sugar coat actual feedback, but demonstrate that everyone can learn from any error and that there is a supportive structure for the individual,” she explains. “Use the ‘we’ because as a team you are in it together, owning the final outcomes collectively.

“This is really creative. Let’s look if we can fine tune your approach.”

When you discuss productivity hacks with your peers, chances are high you will all reveal a different tactic. The same way goes for email organization. Or your philosophy toward the length of meetings — and the frequency of them. One of the difficult parts of becoming an empathetic leader is understanding your employees will not always approach a task the same way you would. Giving feedback here can be tricky, but if their methodology is getting a project off track, discuss the issue with an open mind. As Argo says, your main objective is ensuring work is completed, not changing the style of someone else’s genius.

“Acknowledging their initiative helps an employee see that you value their effort and by taking what they have done, and then reviewing against goals and criteria helps a manager better focus and direct the employee,” she explains.

“You’re great at this. This needs work. But this is amazing.”

Ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly … and manager and managee. Sure, it is tried but it’s true for a reason: the sandwich method works. As the name suggests, this way of presenting constructive feedback requires a manager to put the advice between two compliments. Hakim says this can be a way of softening your advice, especially for a member of your team that could take any criticism harshly or sensitively.

Before you make up a compliment that doesn’t actually pertain to the hours they’ve spent trying to meet your goals, Hakim urges managers to think of two sincere, genuine positives about their performance. Even if they are missing the mark currently, employees aren’t oblivious, and they will be able to tell if you’re making something up on the fly. After you’ve served them the sandwich, make sure to offer your availability to help them progress to the next level.