It’s a common fear. But you have to get over it to be a great leader.

Daily Briefing

It’s a common fear. But you have to get over it to be a great leader.

Few managers are comfortable giving their employees feedback. Nearly half of leaders (44%) say they find it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback, and one-fifth avoid the task altogether.

But frank conversations are critical for employees’ growth. Employees want leaders who take an interest in their professional development. More than 40% of both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers—and nearly 60% of millennials—say growth opportunities are one of the most important things they look for in a job, according to a 2016 survey from Gallup.

Avoiding feedback is a double-edged sword. Without consistent, constructive feedback, employees are more likely to feel disengaged and unsupported at work. For leaders, delaying confrontation can dampen your confidence levels and hurt your team’s performance.

The EAB Daily Briefing team recently reviewed the research in our archives to identify the steps leaders can take to deliver more actionable feedback.

1: Challenge your assumptions

Leaders who avoid giving feedback may worry that confrontation will damage their working relationships, writes Melody Wilding, a leadership coach. But being assertive and transparent doesn’t automatically make you a “difficult manager,” she argues.

Instead of jumping to a worse-case-scenario, envision what you and your team stand to gain from improved performance, she recommends.

2: Start a dialogue

When delivering feedback, approach the conversation as a two-way dialogue. If you listen and validate their concerns, your employees will likely be more receptive to criticism, writes Wilding. Using “I” statements and being specific can also put you and your employee at ease.

3: Make feedback a ritual

If you delay feedback until the next annual performance review, you risk letting the issues fester. Instead, give feedback in lower-stakes, everyday scenarios to build your confidence leading those conversations, recommends Wilding. Routine feedback can come in weekly check-ins or other regular communication channels.

4: Adjust how you deliver feedback

If your employees seem resistant to criticism, take note of how you deliver the feedback, recommends leadership coach Deborah Grayson Riegel. Leaders may be unaware of their own communication shortcomings, like sending mixed messages or weighing in with comments at inopportune times.

You could even try asking your employee for feedback on how you can improve your delivery. This conversation can help you understand how to work better with your employee while also giving you an opportunity to model the appropriate way to receive feedback for your employee, she suggests.

5: Don’t forget to give positive feedback

About 37% of managers avoid giving positive feedback likely because they underestimate the power of positive reinforcement, according to a study on managerial feedback.

Just like constructive criticism, positive feedback that identifies a specific act and its effect on the wider team will be more effective. Expressing genuine gratitude is best done face-to-face, where you can exhibit a smile and other encouraging body language indicators.

(Wilding, Quartz, 2/1/18; Fessler, Quartz, 6/22/17; Grayson Riegel, Harvard Business Review, 11/6/15; Folkman/Zenger, Harvard Business Review, 5/2/17).

Learn to deliver positive—and negative—feedback