Balancing Praise and Criticism When Providing Feedback to Your Teammates

Providing employee feedback is essential to the function of any organization, but many conflict-averse managers clam up when the time comes to critique a direct report. Fortunately, feedback doesn’t have to be scary if you do it right.

A street shows the words praise and criticism

The Problem with Providing Feedback to Employees

Some leaders struggle with tough conversations. However, minor problems can snowball into big ones over time if they aren’t corrected. Withholding employee feedback is not an option for a functional workplace.

Author and former CEO coach Kim Scott discusses the common feedback pitfalls managers encounter in her book, Radical Candor. Scott is the co-founder of a company called Radical Candor, dedicated to helping managers improve their leadership by communicating honestly, effectively, and empathetically.

According to Scott, managers usually fall into one of four categories where feedback is concerned:

  • If you care about the employee but are afraid to be direct with them, that’s called “ruinous empathy.” Your desire to avoid hurting their feelings prevents you from helping them become the best they can be.
  • If you don’t care about your employee and aren’t interested in being direct with them, that’s called “manipulative insincerity.” You’re not invested in your employee’s growth, which prevents you from managing them effectively.
  • If you don’t care personally about your employee but aren’t afraid to challenge them directly, that’s called obnoxious aggression.” You’re the kind of person who sees no problem with being blunt and doesn’t care if it hurts your employee’s feelings.
  • The sweet spot is called “radical candor.” This is the point at which you care personally about your employee and want to see them grow. You recognize that providing direct feedback is a kindness and an asset, not something to shy away from, but you do it with empathy and care.

If you’re reading this blog, I can assume that you care about your employees and want to become a better manager. Therefore, the goal is to seek radical candor in your employee feedback. You can do this through something called the sandwich method.

What is the sandwich method of critiquing?

Being direct with your feedback is one of the best things you can do for your employees. However, criticizing an employee’s performance without recognizing what they do well is demoralizing.

The solution is the sandwich method: sandwiching a critique between two layers of praise. First, you open with something the employee has done well. Next, you point out what can be improved. Finally, reiterate the positives and ensure employees know their work is valued.

An example might be this:

“Mike, you did a great job leading that meeting earlier. I know you’ve been working hard to prepare, and it showed. However, I did notice that we seemed to get off-track towards the middle—it would have been helpful to distribute an agenda beforehand so we could stay focused. Can you make sure to do that next time? But, again, I appreciate your ownership of this task.”

I have a twist on the sandwich method I call “liked best/next time.” For example, “This is what I liked about what you did, but next time think about trying it this way.”

Providing feedback to employees should be such a regular part of your communication that it rarely becomes an extensive conversation. Moreover, that feedback should be delivered in a way that solves the problem while remaining balanced. By striving for radical candor, you can improve your relationship with your direct reports through mutual trust and understanding.

Learning how to provide employee feedback effectively is crucial for any business leader. A business coach can help you develop your communication skills and give you the confidence, to be honest with your direct reports. So fill out my contact form, and let’s talk about giving feedback in the workplace.

Coach Dave

Dave Schoenbeck
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