6 Ways to Give Directions So You Don’t Have to Give “Constructive” Feedback Later

The hardest part of managing people is…the people. Every person has a unique personality, a particular set of needs, and a life outside of work that can infringe on neatly placed work boundaries at any given moment.

And that’s not to mention that each people manager has the exact same elements in play.

What that means is that on any given day, there is a chance – hopefully, a small one – of each of those elements on both sides seeming to conspire against you to create “one of those days”.

The most underrated skill great managers have in common is their ability and willingness to give feedback – constructive feedback. I make that distinction because there is a right and a wrong way to deliver feedback.

I’m not talking about just telling someone when they messed up, because anyone can focus on the negative. Constructive feedback puts that aside – no matter how frustrated you might be – and is focused on how to resolve the problem that still exists and/or how the situation being discussed might be handled better the next time. The more actionable the better.

Of course, if you never are in a position where you can minimize how frequently you need to deliver that type of message, then it feels better for everyone. Here are some ways you can make the feedback clear up front to prevent an unpleasant discussion after the fact.

Repeat yourself

We work on complicated problems and have a bit of a skewed view of how quickly people should come up to speed. Two weeks to learn your job? Really?? When you’re asking for someone on your team to execute on something, not only is repeating yourself as a recap a good idea, but maybe rephrasing in a slightly different way might help the request click for the person on the other end.

Put the key points in writing

When you put things in writing, it gives your team a chance to revisit and process a little more on their own. It also gives you a chance to see your own thoughts and to confirm they’re coherent before asking another person to act on them.

Have the team put the key points in writing

It’s always easier to review than create, so have your team write down their understanding and you can give a quick review to make sure everything is on the right path before any additional steps are taken to execute the request. Similar to you putting everything in writing yourself, this can feel a bit on the wrong end of the micromanagement spectrum, but it will make sure expectations are clear. Once you build a stronger rapport with your team, you can be more selective about the things you want to be scribed for posterity.

Ask to be flattered (with imitation)

Another way to make sure you’re in sync with your team is to have them tell you what they think they’re supposed to be doing based on the direction you just gave them.

While having someone parrot your own words back to you could seem redundant, it’s a quick and proven way of clarifying a misunderstanding before people go their separate ways. Out of all of the tips noted here, this is probably the most efficient path to getting actual results to look at. This efficiency is the same reason you recap action items at the end of a client meeting.

Set up a vision checkpoint

If the person you’re working with is more experienced, you should be able to spend less time talking through specifics and some facts and general direction. What you may want to do in this scenario is give a little bit of time for the team member to collect his/her thoughts and come up with a vision. Maybe this is a bulleted outline or a rough sketch. It doesn’t really matter so long as you quickly touch base and agree on the course of action or refine until you do agree. At that stage, hopefully, that person can go off and do the work while you focus on other items that may need your attention.

Spend more time talking about the why behind the request

Sometimes we get so focused on the task that needs to get done, we often neglect the conversation about the why. When people have an understanding or sense of purpose, it could serve as motivation to do a good job, which is pretty sweet, but there’s something bigger. When you spend time explaining the why, you give yourself a chance to inspire a better idea than you had even considered.