Account Managers: Advice for Giving and Receiving Constructive Feedback

By | October 7, 2013
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TightropeFew items are more important to your organization than managers who know how to effectively give and receive constructive feedback.

Good feedback practices enhance company culture, improve performance and supercharge talent development—all while strengthening bonds between managers, support teams and colleagues.

To give and receive constructive feedback is to walk a tightrope. But it’s a tightrope on which anyone can learn to balance.

In this post, we asked several marketing managers how they give and receive constructive feedback, and offer tips on how to do so effectively.

Giving Constructive Feedback

Separate Negative and Positive Feedback—and Give Each Its Due.

Negative feedback highlights a problematic behavior that requires correction. Positive feedback, however, reinforces desirable ones.

Both are important. But don’t make the mistake of mixing them.

Too often, managers sandwich negative feedback between two slices of positive feedback, says Anthony K. Tjan in Harvard Business Review.

It’s the worst of all worlds: A report comes away with mixed messages, your words lose authenticity and problematic behaviors remain uncorrected.

Instead, think of delivering positive and negative feedback as two important, but separate, habits.

“Maintaining a balance between positive and negative feedback is important,” says Andrew Dymski (@AndrewJDymski), vice president of inbound at GuavaBox LLC. “If you’re leaning too much in either direction, your words lose weight and your feedback will be less authentic.”

Give Positive Feedback That Is Infrequent, Genuine, Detailed and Public.

It’s crucial to highlight the good work of your team. But it’s also important to do so within reason.

“If you’re always giving positive feedback on a daily basis,” says Luke Summerfield (@SavvyLuke), director of inbound at SavvyPanda. “People will take it for granted.”

When you do give positive feedback, praise an individual’s specific achievements in front of your entire team.

“Don’t simply say, ‘You did a great job!’” says Summerfield. “Give that person some specific feedback of what they did well, why their contributions made the project successful and the impact that a successful project will make in the overall business.”

Give Negative Feedback That Is Direct, Specific and Private.

Always give negative feedback in private—and highlight specific examples of problematic behavior when you do, says Summerfield.

There’s a world of difference between saying something general like, “You have a bad attitude” and identifying a specific troublesome behavior like, “In today’s meeting, you rolled your eyes while someone was speaking.”

Follow Up On Negative Feedback.

Don’t leave a team member hanging after you deliver negative feedback.

“If you’re making a negative comment, provide an alternative or a new direction that points toward a better outcome or solution,” says GuavaBox’s Dymski.

One way to do that, says SavvyPanda’s Summerfield, is to point toward ebooks, webinars and other resources that give examples of your feedback’s successful implementation. This gives a report or colleague something concrete to work toward.

Give Constructive Feedback Way More Often.

If you only meet with your team to deliver feedback during quarterly or annual performance reviews, it’s time to stop.

“The idea that you’re only going to give constructive performance feedback to a team member two or four times per year is ridiculous,” says Summerfield.

Instead, block off an hour on a biweekly basis with each team member under your direction. The purpose of the meeting is to deliver regular, constructive feedback. But don’t cancel it if you don’t have any. The meeting is also an opportunity for you to better assist a report’s professional development, build a better relationship with them and receive feedback yourself.

Try conducting these meetings outside the office. The tone is more relaxed—which makes delivering and receiving feedback easier.

Receiving Constructive Feedback

Get Your Head in the Right Place.

To effectively receive constructive feedback, you need to think about feedback constructively.

“Be positive (yes, even when receiving feedback), and see it as a learning opportunity,” says Katie Gutwein (@kbkcomm), director of marketing and social media at KBK Communications. “No matter what level you’re at in your career, you should always be learning.”

A positive, education-centric mentality gives you the bandwidth to effectively receive feedback and take action on it.

Ditch the Negativity.

Even if you consider negative feedback educational, it’s easy to become defensive or too self-critical.

“When receiving negative feedback, it is really easy to put up the defenses and let the excuse train pull out of the station,” says GuavaBox LLC’s Dymski.

“I’ve found it best to drop defenses, put yourself in the other person's shoes, and take a real interest in the feedback they're sharing. If you're constantly defensive, it is really hard to ever improve,” he adds.

And don’t take feedback personally, says Gutwein. “Listen and be open to learning from others’ feedback.”

Ask for Feedback—Frequently.

It’s easy for managers to forget: You need to ask for feedback, and ask for it frequently. Your reports and colleagues will rarely offer it up unprompted.

Ask reports or colleagues, “Is there anything I could be doing better?” or “What more could I be doing to help you?”

Seek feedback from multiple sources. As a manager, it might take a few tries before reports or colleagues give you consistent, honest and constructive feedback.

Don’t Just Sit There.

“Take notes and ask questions during feedback sessions,” says KBK’s Gutwein. And don’t hesitate to clarify any feedback that is unclear or ask for action steps to improve.

Once the feedback is given, break it down into actionable steps to follow for improvement. Schedule out those steps the same way you would any other task—and, most importantly, act on them.

What steps do you use to give and receive constructive feedback? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: quinn.anya