3 experienced managers share their best one-on-one conversation tips
Great managers know that one-on-one conversations play a key role in the success of each individual on your team—including yourself. These dedicated …
At the center of an employee’s personal and professional development is feedback from their manager. And in the fast-paced modern workforce, you need to be having feedback exchanges with your employees more often than an annual performance review. The coaching you offer in 1-on-1 meetings helps everyone grow independently and better leverage their skills towards team performance and achieving collective goals.
But what makes feedback effective, really? And how can you get better at giving it? To help you out, we’ve outlined the top tips to improve your delivery, and offer some real-life examples of giving meaningful employee feedback in different situations.
Before we get into specific examples, we break down some of the top 5 tips to be more impactful in your feedback delivery.
To make employee feedback effective, you want to be sure that you’re covering the most important information of the situation, and looking ahead at how learnings can be applied in the future.
The three key elements of effective feedback are:
This final element is crucial, as feedback must be applicable in the future for it to be worth sharing. The goal of feedback should always be to help the other person improve.
This is a rule of thumb no matter the type of feedback. Negative feedback shouldn’t be a character critique, and likewise, personal compliments do little to help an employee grow professionally. Instead of focusing on someone’s personality, review their behaviour and its outcome.
Instead of saying: “You’re disorganized and it’s affecting the rest of the team’s progress on the project. What are you doing to get organized?”
Try saying: “I’ve noticed that time-management has become challenging with this project. How are you managing your workload? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Sometimes when we deliver feedback, we inadvertently give off the impression that the feedback is coming from everyone, not just us. This might be an instinctive way of trying to either depersonalize the message or make it more powerful. The adverse effect of this is that it can make an employee feel as though the feedback is coming from people who don’t know them, or don’t know their work.
As their direct manager, employees want your opinion. Use “I” statements to take ownership of your observations and show your employee that you’re invested in them personally. Feedback will have more of an impact if they know it’s coming from you.
Instead of saying: “When you interrupted Emmanuel in the meeting yesterday it was uncomfortable, and we missed his point.”
Try saying: “In yesterday’s meeting I think you jumped in before Emmanuel had finished his thought. I asked him to clarify after but it diverted my attention for a minute.”
Feedback should be a two-way conversation, where you and your employee are working together to uncover learnings and apply them to future endeavours. This is where you can take on the role of a coach, creating a culture of ongoing employee development. Be open to your employee’s take on the situation and be willing to hear them out. The best way to do this is to always follow feedback with an open-ended question.
Managers need feedback, too
Don’t just be open to receiving feedback from your employees, actively seek it out. Develop a culture of feedback on your team by asking for it on a regular basis. Officevibe’s Employee Feedback tool helps managers collect meaningful insights from their team—and even supports you in crafting a response.
Research shows that positive employee feedback is more impactful on performance than criticism, and meaningful recognition has a big ROI for employee engagement. Make a point of congratulating your team members on a job well done, and pointing out the positive impact of their work on the business.
That said, there will be times when you’ll have to give your employees candid constructive feedback that might be hard for them to hear, but essential to their development. Don’t shy away from these moments, but do think of them as opportunities for learning and growth, and be intentional in your approach.
Instead of saying: “You haven’t been hitting your targets, and it’s beginning to concern me. We’re going to need to turn your performance around quickly so it doesn’t drag the rest of the team down.”
Try saying: “You haven’t been hitting your targets, but I know that you’re working hard. Let’s dig into what’s blocking you and work together to break down those barriers. The team has your back.”
Now that you’ve nailed down the most essential tips for your delivery, it’s time to put them into practice. These constructive feedback examples based on real-life workplace scenarios will help prepare you for exchanges with your team members.
Your role as a manager is to help your employees develop and contribute their best efforts towards the team’s shared goals. This sometimes means delivering tough feedback, but only when it will ultimately help them improve. Be sure to include how you see the feedback applying in their future work in your delivery.
Experts say: Challenge directly, care personally
Care is a key ingredient in making tough feedback constructive, impactful, and authentic. The Radical Candor model suggests we approach negative feedback by both challenging someone directly and caring for them personally. You can see this approach in action in the examples below.
Example: late delivery on a project
I want to talk to you about your work on this last project, because your delay impacted the team. I know you worked hard to complete your part on time, and looking back now, we can spot the roadblocks more easily. I’d love to see you be more proactive in spotting them before they impact your delivery next time. How can we make it easier for you to raise the flag on these kinds of things?
Example: low morale or a negative attitude
I’ve noticed that you seem less engaged lately, and it’s important to me that you’re motivated and feeling a sense of purpose in your work. I’m starting to see this impacting the team’s morale, and I want to make sure we’re all in this together and supporting each other. Is there something going on that I’m not aware of? Do you feel you have enough of a challenge in your work? Is there anything I can do to help?
Sometimes we think that giving feedback means having the answers, but part of being a coach is recognizing that what you might think is best won’t always be what’s best for others. The first step is raising your concern, and then you can help your employee uncover the best action items with curiosity and care.
While you want to be mindful in your approach to constructive criticism, it’s equally important to be intentional when giving positive feedback and employee recognition. Feeling seen is a human need, and your employees want to know that all their hard work isn’t going unnoticed. Make time for positive feedback, and give it equal care as your coaching.
Example: achieving a goal (big or small)
Reaching your goal of [name the goal] is a big accomplishment. I remember when we set this goal, and the ambition you had to achieve it. Because of all your hard work and grit, we’ve seen that [name the impact of their work on team/business goals]. Congratulations, and thank you for this contribution to our team’s objectives. How do you feel?
Example: exhibiting team or company values
The way that you stepped in during our meeting to share your idea really demonstrated our value of sharing alternative perspectives and challenging the status quo. It’s not always easy to speak out in a group setting, and I was really impressed by you in that moment. How did you feel in the meeting? How do you feel now?
People sometimes have the tendency to brush off compliments, but asking your employee to share their experience can help them to internalize the feedback. Whether they share all of their thoughts with you or it just gives them a quiet moment to reflect, this is a great way to both connect with your employees and make positive feedback stick.
As a middle manager, you’ll inevitably be put in the position to deliver feedback to your employees that isn’t your own. This can be awkward, especially if you don’t necessarily agree with the perspective of the feedback giver. You can always encourage a more direct interaction, but if for whatever reason that’s not possible, the best path forward is transparency and objectivity.
Example: from upper management to your direct report
In our weekly managers sync, we have a roundtable to share what our teams have been working on. It leads to some really interesting discussions! This week [name the person] offered some interesting insights that I hadn’t considered, and I wanted to share them with you. From their perspective, they weren’t sure that we made the right call on [name the decision]. What do you make of that? I’m relaying this to you but feel free to reach out to them directly to discuss it further as well.
Example: from someone outside of the team
I had a conversation with [name the person] the other day and they shared some feedback that I thought could be valuable to you. Since they’re not in our day-to-day, they find that your public messages don’t always have enough context for them to grasp everything. They suggested a structure for our cross-team communications that I think we can try. How does that sound to you?
Keeping your delivery conversational can help your employees receive it more openly. It’s this kind of honesty and sharing that helps build psychological safety on teams, and outside perspectives help us catch things we may have missed. Encourage your employees to follow up with the other person directly to help break down hierarchy and communication barriers.
As much as constructive feedback should always focus on the facts, there will be times when opinions will be strong or emotions will be high in relation to the actions or behaviours being discussed. Your relationships with your team members are key to their success (and yours), so it’s especially pertinent to remain neutral, solution-oriented, and ultimately, kind.
Example: managing team conflict
I sensed that there was tension in our planning meeting yesterday, and I want to be sure that we address it before it impacts our productivity or happiness. We’re all working towards [name a shared goal] here, but it’s okay if we have different ideas on how to get there. What were you feeling in the meeting? What are your main concerns?
Example: disagreeing with their approach
I know that [name the project] is really important to you and you’re excited about moving forward. I want to be candid with you, because I know we ultimately have the same end goal. My concerns about our current approach are [name specific concerns] and how this might impact [name the specific negative outcome]. Have you thought about this possibility? How do you see us troubleshooting it or reevaluating our approach?
It’s okay to be emotional at work, and creating spaces that allow for this kind of vulnerability will set you and your team ahead. Open communication based on trust and understanding helps you know how people really feel, which is invaluable information for any manager.
Keep a pulse on your team
The best way to open up meaningful conversations by tapping into your employees’ real experience. You can track metrics like Feedback, Recognition, and Happiness on an ongoing basis with Officevibe Pulse Surveys, to know exactly where your team needs you most.
Like many managerial tasks, shifting to remote work can make giving feedback more challenging. The lack of face-to-face interaction and nonverbal communication can create additional concerns around our words coming across as we mean them. This is an adjustment period for everyone, and this is important to be mindful of when you’re preparing to give remote feedback.
Example: addressing decreased employee performance
We’ve all been adapting to this new reality differently, and I’ve noticed some of us on the team seem to be struggling to maintain the same pace we had before we went remote. I want to figure out what everyone’s unique blockers are so we can work better together as a team, before it starts impacting our performance. What has been particularly challenging for you? Are there any tools you’re missing to be productive? Do you have ideas for how the team can be more efficient together?
Example: work-life balance concerns
I’ve noticed you’ve messaged the team outside of our regular working hours a few times since we made the switch to remote. I want everyone to have flexibility in their scheduling as much as we can, but want to be sure our efficiency isn’t negatively impacted in the process. What kind of hours have you been working? What do you find helps you maintain your work-life balance?
Especially when we’re apart, it can be easy to draw assumptions about people’s work habits, or their work-from-home reality. The truth is that the only way to know for sure is to ask, and this is also the best way to support your employees in the ways that they need to be supported.
Giving feedback is a challenge managers face on an ongoing basis because the need for feedback never subsides. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Make feedback a part of your team culture to support your team’s development, and ensure everyone is putting their best foot forward.