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Be Transparent With Feedback (& Avoid “Parentalism”)

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Common scenario If you’re a boss or project leader, you may worry about hurting people’s feelings or de-motivating them with corrective feedback. You may procrastinate and hold off talking to people until you are strained to the breaking point. Finally, there’s a problem you can’t ignore and you decide you must say something.

If you’re like a lot of other managers you are still uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. When you finally get up the nerve, you worry about what you’re going to say and how to best phrase it. You may even wait until the right time, or at least hold it til after the weekend.

Finally You ask the team member to join you in your office, and the employee immediately senses you are nervous about something. You try to phrase the feedback carefully and it is clear you are skirting around the issue. Your voice is unnaturally calm and you are unusually polite. You are trying to preserve the team member’s feelings. You are protecting them. At the end of the conversation, the employee isn’t clear on what you said or what to do next. But it feels manipulative, like a mom or dad treating you like a small child who can’t handle the truth.

This is the opposite of what employees want.

Your team members want transparent feedback I have done a lot of interview research on this and know recent studies on employee engagement that say the same thing. High performers, younger employees, and just about everyone else wants the unvarnished truth about how they are doing on the job. They want to know what you–as their boss–wants to see them do differently. They want it now and they don’t want to guess what you are thinking. And they are enraged that you would hold that information for days, weeks, or even sometimes for a whole year until performance review time rolls around. They want to be able to adjust their actions to be successful on the job.

They do not want to be mollycoddled or manipulated. They don’t want you to complain about them behind their back or behind closed doors.

So, what to do? Say it now. Spit it out. Don’t think too much about it. Just be open.

They will like you better. They won’t feel manipulated or overly protected. They can handle the truth.

In fact, you will be pleasantly surprised by how fast they will improve their work. They will have a better weekend knowing that you are the kind of boss who will let them know if you think they ought to improve something. And you will sleep better without worrying about what to say.

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