“My negative feedback experience happened in high school basketball,” said a leadership coaching session participant. “Our best player got injured and the coach told us that we couldn’t win without her. My friend and I proved him right by deliberately fouling out in the game’s first five minutes.” Destructive criticism like this can lead to “foul outs” in the workplace, too. Most of us have had similar experiences where the wrong words at the wrong time disempowered, deflated and defeated us. Try these more constructive ways to deliver feedback that coaches, engages and empowers employees as ESOP owners to “stay in the game and win”.

1) Make it part of every day
Effective coaching is an ongoing process, not an isolated event (you should, of course, provide feedback during an employee’s formal performance reviews). A good coach walks around, notices performance and provides feedback based on what he or she sees in the office, warehouse and production floor.

To remind yourself to provide more frequent feedback, put five pennies in your right-hand pants pocket. Every time you give someone feedback, transfer a penny to the left pocket. When you move all five in a day, add a sixth penny to encourage yourself to provide more feedback to more people. This may seem slightly silly, but silly works.

2) Be immediate, spontaneous and specific to the person/situation
When a coach sees positive performance or something needing improvement, he or she provides the feedback in that moment. Great coaches make their feedback specific to the situation and the person. They know who they’re coaching and what works with that individual (and, more importantly, what doesn’t). To encourage performance improvements, when you see someone doing something right, tell them about it now. The more immediate and specific, the more effective the feedback will be. Seize the opportunity: Don’t wait until the performance review — because by that time, it will be too late.

3) Rephrase negative feedback into constructive feedback
No one likes to give negative feedback. In fact, a Harvard Business School study found almost half of managers dread it. People, however, want to hear feedback. Gallup found that employees who receive only negative feedback are more engaged than those who get none at all. Maybe this reflects a coaching cliché: “don’t worry that I’m yelling at you; worry when I stop” (because I’ve given up on you).

Whether coaching basketball players or employee owners, the challenge lies in your delivery. You can engage in criticism (“you always do this wrong”) or be constructive (“here’s how this is wrong, let’s talk about how to do it right”). If your goal is to help employees improve — rather than punish them for mistakes — your feedback must genuinely reflect that. People quickly see through the transparency of false sincerity.

4) Say what you want, not what you don’t want
Telling people what you want also morphs negative feedback into constructive. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling people not to do something (e.g., don’t make this mistake), rather than sharing what they need to do to be successful. If you’re concerned about errors, flip the script from what someone shouldn’t do to what they ought to do. In basketball terms, this is the equivalent of telling players to “make the shot” (and showing them what they need to do to make it), instead of saying “don’t miss.”

5) Praise in public, criticize in private
Most people enjoy being recognized but hate being criticized in front of others. Acknowledge that and provide negative/constructive feedback one-on-one in private. There’s almost nothing worse or more destructive than receiving a public dressing down. While this one’s more obvious, we all can get caught “in the heat of the moment” and fall into this feedback trap. Try not to step out of bounds, and instead have those conversations in the locker room.

6) Avoid emotionally laden trigger words
No one “always” or “never” does something, so avoid using those trigger words. And if they always screw up or never make it to work on time, why are they still working for your company?

“I” statements are much more effective coaching tools because by focusing on yourself, you deescalate emotions and potential conflicts. A “you” statement, on the other hand, ramps things up and often sounds accusatory. For instance, “I saw that we have this problem” comes across much better than “you caused this problem.” Making “I” statements will help you focus on what happened, rather than personalizing the situation with a “you”.

“But” can also be a trigger word; try to substitute it with “and.” We’ve all received positive feedback, waited for the inevitable “but” and, alas, heard it. That “but,” of course, nullified everything positive said prior to it. Swap your “but” for “and” to make your feedback more effective. Rather than saying, for example, “I liked this article, but you ought to have included more real-world ESOP examples to make it more relevant,” say, “I liked this article and you ought to have included more real-world ESOP examples to make it more relevant.” No buts about it and it’s that simple.

Providing employees with positive and constructive feedback is essential to their success, growth and development as effective employee-owners. Implement some of these field-tested techniques to help your co-workers, yourself and your ESOP succeed.

Contact Jim Bado at 419-427-2435 or jbado@workplacedevelopment.com  to learn more about WDI services that enhance employees skills for being effective owners.