Employees unfit for criticism

How to properly use feedback as a management tool

With a loud bang the door slams shut. You are sitting alone at the table because your coworker has just left the room in a rage – your well-intentioned employee review meeting has ended in disaster. You were well prepared, but then your constructive criticism became less constructive…We’ll show you how to best express legitimate criticism of the performance of your employees in the future.

You’re sitting opposite an employee unable to take criticism? Then you have to give constructive feedback – but correctly so.

Talk to each other!

The main problem in the relationship between executives and employees is the feedback. More often it is a lack thereof, rather than an abundance. After all, a continuous dialogue between managers and their employees is very important. It increases the emotional bond in the workplace and establishes a culture of cooperation. Without feedback, you can neither support your employees nor control their performance, much less develop them. So, you have to talk to each other. But how?

The 4 levels of feedback

Basically, feedback should apply without exception to the behavior or attitude of the employee, not their personality in general. In fact, feedback works like any communication tool on the following 4 levels:

  • What is the content of the communication?
  • What do you, as a manager, want from the employee? Which behavior should be left alone, and which should be pointed out?
  • How do you relate to each other; what is the (employment) relationship?
  • What does the feedback you provide say about you as a manager?

Self-esteem issues in the team? Tread lightly…

Every employee reacts differently to criticism. Some can confidently deal with open and appreciative feedback. They actively ask themselves what they can improve. In these situations, as a leader, you are perceived by a self-confident and critical employee as a mentor who understands and criticizes constructively.

Other employees, however, might take your feedback personally. They could feel criticized or even attacked as a human being in their role as an employee. Often, they have a lower level of self-confidence. These employees react quickly, and in some cases even aggressively utilize verbal counterattacks. A total refusal attitude is even conceivable as a reaction – only after feedback is given do these employees start to talk again: amongst their colleagues, where they then gossip primarily about your shortcomings as a manager…

So give feedback correctly

The Munich psychologist, Christine Gindert, gives tips on the rules of providing feedback.

To avoid this, the Munich-based psychologist Dr. Christine Gindert gives simple but very effective advice: “Be clear and appreciative! Be sure to follow the 13 rules of feedback. This will enable you to show the employee your perception of the value they bring. You can tell them specifically what wish or demand you have of them for the future. And you make yourself invulnerable in any case.” Feedback can and should be mastered as a leader. Of course, this applies in both directions – giving and receiving feedback.

The 13 rules of feedback

You cannot have an appraisal interview within ten minutes in the cafeteria. Where colleagues are talking and ears are listening. Please note the following rules:

  1. Schedule an appointment and plan extra time from the beginning.
  2. Invite the employee officially.
  3. In doing so, give the reason for the interview so that he too can prepare accordingly.
  4. Reserve an adequate room.
  5. Make sure you won’t be bothered often by other colleagues.
  6. Turn off your smartphone.
  7. Formulate the goal again at the beginning of the conversation, even if it may be uncomfortable.
  8. Be as specific as possible. Don’t leave things up to interpretation, judgment or generalization.
  9. Always remain appreciative and speak only for yourself.
  10. Say what kind of behavior might be more appropriate from your point of view to achieve the desired goals.
  11. Involve the employee and ask him about his view of things.
  12. Make it clear that the agreed goals are not debatable.
  13. In any case, also address the positive behavior and achievements of the employee.

Are you perhaps part of the problem?

Do you still have the feeling your employees cannot engage in constructive conversation? Then maybe you could be part of the problem. Christine Gindert advises in these cases to engage in intense self-reflection. “Ponder whether or not you may have made fundamental mistakes as a leader. When you are ready, ask your staff for feedback, and pay attention to the following things:

  • Listen attentively and let the other person finish.
  • Do not justify or defend yourself. But ask comprehensive questions if it seems important to you.
  • Be grateful for the feedback, even if it was not formulated perfectly.”

About the author

Jörg Peter Urbach is the author, editor and blogger of Sprachleidenschaft. He has been writing for more than 25 years, for print and online. Concepts. Stories. Journal articles. After studying musicology and German language and literature, Jörg Peter worked as an editorial manager in the classical music business. As long-time chief editor of the portal wissen.de, he knows how to inspire readers with clever topics.

If the native Kieler is not writing, he is walking through the Alps. Or listening to the opera. With mindfulness.