Three Well-Meaning Feedback Phrases to Avoid

donthearyouEmployee feedback is important.  Just as important is how we provide that feedback. As managers, it is our role to build, support and encourage. Three well-meaning phrases I used to use and have eliminated are:

“If it was me, …”:  

“If it was me, I would have said …”.  “If it was me, I would have made …”.

The problem with “if it was me” is … it wasn’t you!  “If it was me” tends to be used in conversations when someone, somewhere did not act or speak in a manner approved by the speaker. “If it was me” doesn’t acknowledge:

  • Different view points, methodologies or perspectives
  • The other person’s experience or lack of experience
  • The possibility that perhaps it was you who failed by not providing adequate tools, training or resources
  • What the individual did right

“If it was me” slams the door on conversations that could provide valuable information and insight.  Instead of saying “if it was me”, try:

  • What worked well?
  • Is there something you could do differently that would result in a better outcome?
  • Why did you try that?
  • Is there a reason …?
  • Was there something about the situation that made you uncomfortable?
  • Is there something I can do to help you?

There is no one just like you.  Get past you and focus on them.

You’re doing a great job, but …

Generally one of two things happen when this phrase is used. The employee immediately forgets the great job part as soon as you say ‘but’ and starts holding their breath, waiting for the bad news, or they stop listening when they hear ‘you’re doing a great job’.

Instead of trying to combine the good and the constructive all in one sentence, focus on successes and criticism separately.  It’s not that you can’t share both successes and areas where improvement is required in one meeting; just don’t combine them in one sentence.

And please, don’t only share the good stuff in an effort to soften the blow of of constructive feedback. You don’t want your team members to cringe every time they hear ‘good job.’

Good job

What does good job mean?

Instead of saying “good job”, be specific about what your employee is doing well.  Did he or she manage an unhappy company with grace and skill? What in particular was done well? Focusing on and sharing highlights and specifics is so much more meaningful than an off the cuff ‘good job.’

You don’t need to go into a long laundry list of each and every thing that was done well. That comes across as pandering or condescending.  Look for and then share specific areas of success and tie it back to how it helps the employee, the team, the company or the customer.

These are three phrases I have learned to avoid or adapt. Are there some phrases you no longer use?  Why and how have you changed them to be more effective?

Timely Feedback is not just for Millennials

An article on Business Insider (read it here) starts off with with the comment “If you have millennials working for you, don’t wait for the annual performance review to unload all your praise and criticism on them.”

Partially true, except timely feedback applies to everybody you have working for you, regardless of which generational segment they happen to fall in.

Allowing an employee to perfect incorrect or sub-standard performance over a long period of time is absurd. Ignoring the behaviour until the annual performance review tacitly condones it, plus it’s much  more difficult to change ingrained behaviour.

When you catch someone doing something right, say so. Thank them, acknowledge them and be specific about what they are doing right.  The praise needs to be sincere.  It’s not about constant pats on the head, which is condescending, but instead about recognizing positive contribution.

Also, it may be the Pollyanna in me, but I much prefer to think of feedback as positive or constructive. Criticism is such a negative word.  Criticism focuses on unacceptable performance.  Constructive feedback acknowledges the skill, knowledge or attitude that requires improvement, then focuses on how and why the change is necessary.  How will the individual, the team, the customer and the company benefit? What steps / resources will help the employee be successful?

I found an excellent article about feedback on a website targeting educators. (Read it here.)  The article made me think “Hmmm .. what if we thought of ourselves as educators, responsible for providing the tools, the training and the coaching our team needs to successfully graduate to qualified service professional?”