How to Give Constructive Feedback After Mistakes Have Been Made

When looking for a coach, it helps to seek out someone who will tell you the things that are going to be hard to hear. If you’re the coach, you should strive to be the person who can provide that.

The struggle is how to deliver hard-to-hear information without making the person on the other side feel like trash. Even in situations where someone is making the most basic mistakes (in your opinion), you need to keep your cool.

Part of the reason you need to stay level headed is you want people to maintain their motivation. Having a team member with shattered confidence can be worse than being down a team member. They start overthinking, rushing, and making even more mistakes, compounding the problem.

While you want to show some tact, you also have to be direct. I’m a believer in being tough but fair. Beating around the bush and not saying what you mean only leads to frustration for you and them. The person usually will either feel like they interpreted correctly when they possibly didn’t (but you won’t know until later) or they feel like you speak in riddles and don’t understand how to communicate with them. If someone feels like the communication is lacking then they will stop coming to you and it only makes the situation worse.

See something, say something…that’s what the PA system would announce while riding the “L” train in Chicago. While they refer to stray packages/potential bomb threats, the message makes sense when discussing managing people and giving feedback. That way, you avoid a bunch of mini correctible infractions adding up to an unnecessary – and always untimely – blow up.

Frequent feedback can be tricky too because you run the risk of nitpicking or being perceived as a micromanager. In my experience, that perception stems more from how you deliver the message than the message itself, to my earlier point. When giving feedback, I try to give things to consider or ask if they’ve thought about a different view in addition to their own, not just disregarding their opinion to give the “right” answer.

Careful with the sarcasm. Some people just don’t react well to it and when you’re the manager, you’re in the business of influencing people. No need to make that objective harder to achieve than it already is.

Ask yourself if whatever divergence from what you expected actually has any impact. If not, maybe you keep to yourself. Maybe even note a new alternate solution to a situation you thought you had the blueprint for.

If not, try to explain the impact or the risk you’re trying to mitigate. The beauty of talking through is now you have two or more brains thinking about how to attack a problem.

Most importantly, give feedback in the spirit of teaching and collaboration. If applicable, let that person know it’s not an official “ding” against them because you want them to have the chance to apply the information you’re giving to them.

You can’t be a leader if nobody will follow you and guess what…nobody wants to follow someone who tears them down when they make a mistake.

Speaking of mistakes, if you overreact and you end up being wrong, acknowledge it. It makes you more approachable and models the behavior you hope to see from people who work with you.