Communicators can empower managers to give better feedback. Here’s how.

How managers give that feedback and empower their reports to act on it takes a deft hand. Thankfully, communicators can help this process along.

In nearly every organization, an employee’s manager is their primary point of contact. Ideally, a manager should serve as a mentor, coach, and guide through the organizational structure. Additionally, one of the most important roles a manager holds is that of feedback provider.

But how managers give that feedback and empower their reports to act on it takes a deft hand. Thankfully, communicators can help this process along. With a little coaching, managers can provide clear, timely and meaningful feedback that removes anxiety and sets their reports up for success.

Establishing a healthy feedback system for meaningful check-ins

Feedback, whether positive or negative, should be delivered mindfully for maximum impact.

Troy P. Thompson, career consultant, speaker and workforce development program lead at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, said that developing intangible skills like emotional intelligence and person-to-person connection are critical for managers who want to give effective feedback.

“In addition to formal training on topics such as emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, and conflict resolution, managers who wish to develop healthy feedback systems should make it a priority to meet with their direct reports early on to establish goals and expectations, with the expressed aim to foster mutual alignment and curb uncertainty,” Thompson said.

Thompson also cited a statistic from Gallup that 80% of employees who received feedback within the past week reported being engaged at work, regardless of location, as evidence that strong feedback processes can make for a better dispersed work culture.

“The creation of reliable feedback loops is also a crucial step for better job performance in today’s hybrid work era,” he said.

During check-ins, managers should focus on asking high-quality questions, then actively listen to gain a deeper understanding of their report’s perspective.

“This approach will equip you with enough situational context to focus your feedback on the problem, not the person, and in a position to offer more practical guidance,” Thompson added.

Training managers with realistic scenarios

Communicators can also help managers gain better insight into the sentiments of their reports.

Rod Hughes, president of Kimball Hughes Public Relations, said that comms can help prepare managers for giving feedback by facilitating role-playing exercises along with highlighting topics and buzzwords to avoid.

“Setting up realistic scenarios and having the manager play the employee role can be a genuine eye opener for how words land on someone who might be struggling in their role,” said Hughes.

“As communications professionals, especially those trained in HR or internal communication dynamics, we are in a unique position to stand outside the manager-employee relationship as observers or interpreters.”

Rethinking reviews

One of the most ubiquitous parts of the manager-report connection is the performance review. But despite past precedent, it doesn’t just need to be a one-way report about job aptitude.

Cat Collella-Graham, employee experience consultant and coach at Coaching for Communicators, emphasized that the communication between manager and report is what makes a review impactful.

“Communication is key to delivering feedback,” said Colella-Graham. “It should be a conversation, not about the black-and-white of a written review, which is inherently flawed. Set the table based on the person you are sharing feedback with. If the team member tends to take feedback personally, elevate the conversation around the larger cultural and organizational goals, and share how as a team you can help them achieve success.”

Kerry O’Grady, director of teaching excellence at Columbia Business School, said that managers need to understand the difference between truly communicating valuable feedback or just relaying something a report did that rubbed them the wrong way.

“Doing that can have a negative domino effect,” O’Grady said. “If you’re giving that type of feedback, what is the report supposed to do with that type of information?”

O’Grady added that the more specific a manager can be in their communication within a review the better. A lack of specificity only helps to form a poor workplace culture.

“If you’ve got a communications structure in place that allows either rumors or non-specific reports about an employee to leak their way into a review, that needs changing,” she said.” You’re sowing the seeds for negative culture. Communicate clearly and specifically. That’s how managers can get through to people.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports and hosting trivia.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.