I just got a promotion, and I'm so excited about what that means for me in terms of career growth and opportunity. But part of what that means is that I'm now managing another employee for the first time, and I'm not sure how to give feedback that will inspire change but also not be too harsh. What are some great new manager tips for how to give constructive feedback?
Your question has allowed me to reflect back on my early growing pains of being a first-time manager. I was promoted to manage a small team, and though I was extremely excited, I had never received any guidance, managed anyone before, or had any insight on how to give constructive feedback. That meant I had to learn how to be a good manager while on the job. What I quickly learned was even though I hadn’t received any formal training, I could still take the initiative to educate myself. I went to my local bookstore and purchased as many resources as I could to learn how to lead from a place of confidence, empathy, and equity. Some days I got it right, and some days, I am sure, I had a lot of room for improvement.
Now, I teach a course at New York University focused on talent development, which is centered on a curriculum aimed to make team environments as psychologically safe as possible. One component of the course is focused on how to give constructive feedback to your staff, because I believe constructive feedback is among the most important skill sets a manager can have.
The first book I assign my students to read is called Difficult Conversations, written by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone, and Bruce Patton, because I've found that too many managers are not equipped to have difficult conversations with their staff. If a manager does not have the emotional intelligence to know when to listen, educate, or provide feedback, that could potentially impact the retention rates and productivity within their company or organization. In fact, much of a manager’s day-to-day involves providing feedback, and if this person isn't modeling what an effective work ethic looks like, a toxic environment may just emerge. No “good” manager wants that!
Now, back to you. As a new manager, your goal of engaging with your staff and providing feedback is not to remind them who the boss is, and it's not to dismiss their ideas or concerns if they don’t align with yours. Rather, your job is to authentically engage, listen, and enhance their career journey; and that requires you to be acutely aware of how you are conveying important information that might be helpful to their career growth. In other words, it's not always what you say but how you say it that matters.
One tip for how to give constructive feedback effectively is asking: Will this feedback move our conversation forward and lead to a resolution, or will my feedback create strife and confusion?
For instance, the way you communicate certain information during an annual review with someone from your staff could allow for a productive conversation or one that makes your colleague feel like they don’t belong on your team or that you don’t appreciate the work they are doing. You can always say what you mean, without saying it mean. One tip for how to give constructive feedback effectively that always works for me is asking myself this question: Will this feedback move our conversation forward and lead to a resolution, or will my feedback create strife and confusion? In answering that question, you might find that you have to rethink your approach, which is why managers should never just “shoot from the hip.” There are too many consequences to consider when we aren’t thinking about the feedback we are giving and receiving.
Additionally, understand that not every person on your team will respond to feedback the same way. So, as a new manager, it’s especially important that you take time to build a relationship with each member so you are giving tailored and thoughtful feedback.
And, lastly, make sure you create a feedback loop. That is, when you are providing constructive feedback, please be mindful to create space for the person on the receiving end to give feedback or respond to what you have said in a way that makes them feel safe. A good conversation ends with two-way dialogue.
Being a manager might be challenging at times, yet, one thing that always inspires me to work toward being a good manager is knowing that my actions have the capacity to make the workplace better than I found it. I have worked for managers who did not learn how to give constructive feedback and engage with me, and that made for some of my hardest times in my career. Yet I also remember the times when I was lucky enough to have a manager who was invested in my success, which led me to thrive. Remember that you have the ability to be that for someone on your team.
Minda Harts is the author of the best-selling book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. She is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Wagner. She hosts a podcast and LinkedIn Live Show called Secure The Seat. Minda lives in New York and has a French bulldog named Boston. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her newsletter here.
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