Feedback is a touchy subject. Managers are often loath to give it just as employees often cringe at receiving it. However, we absolutely need it to know where we stand and to continue improving, for everyone’s sake.

Some ideas I’ve seen work well to make these conversations less fraught with anxiety and more productive in terms of outcomes:

  • Building feedback up as some looming future event is almost guaranteed to make everyone dread the very thought of it, impairing people’s analytic thinking, creative insight and problem-solving, to say nothing of their ability to actually focus on the job. Instead, make it less formal and frequently engage in conversations about how everyone—manager included—can improve to achieve better outcomes in all types of situations. Take the threat and lecturing component out of it and frame it as a collaborative conversation that has an uplifting and aspirational vibe to it.
  • Take the conversation off the premises (or at least out of your office) to an environment that doesn’t emphasize the power differential that exists between feedback giver and receiver and automatically frame the exchange as top-down admonishment.  
  • Make the conversation relatable by applying the intended feedback to yourself. Share how you (or someone you respect and look up to) once received feedback along the same lines and how it helped you improve.
  • Ask with genuine curiosity: “How would you like me to give you feedback?” Instead of being too direct or too vague, ask the other person how they’d prefer to discuss their opportunities to grow and improve. Let them role-model the conversation as you play the receiver of feedback. Presented with warmth and psychological safety this creates trust and a spirit of collaboration. Trust the fact that most people genuinely want to improve and contribute value.
  • Invite the other person to give themselves feedback. After identifying a specific scenario including impact and outcomes, you can say something like, “given what we know about this situation, what feedback would you give yourself in order to improve or modify this situation for next time?”

These are just a few options and possibilities to turn a stressful situation that is often perceived as threatening and counterproductive into something people can look forward to as an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. As long as managers present it as such that is—an opportunity to become a better version of oneself, offered with compassion, curiosity and a sincere desire to help people improve.