How to Give Constructive Feedback

One of the toughest parts of a manager’s job is giving employees constructive feedback. But it’s also one of the most important superpowers managers must improve.

Without good feedback, workers won’t grow. Whether it’s positive or negative, employees need to know where they stand. For our purposes, we’ll use the example of a superhero who has excelled at giving feedback: Charles “Professor X” Xavier, the founder and leader of the X-Men.

For years, Professor X has run a private school that trains mutants and turns them into superheroes like you. It’s not an easy job – he just makes it look easy. Here are four tips to give better feedback like the leader of the X-Men:

Focus on the work, not the person
It’s important to detach the problem from the person when giving feedback. In other words, focus on person’s performance, not their personality traits.

If you focus on the person, your feedback will come off sounding like an attack.

Take this example: “You’re bad at spelling. Your report is full of errors.” Pretty blunt, right?
A better way to say it: “There were a lot of spelling errors in the report. I’d suggest running spell check and proofing reports before you turn them in next time.”

Professor X is great at zeroing in on his mutants’ behavior and not attacking them.
Xavier focuses on Wolverine’s unruly behavior and asks for improvement. He doesn’t call the X-Man selfish (even if he acts like it) or suggest he’s a bad person.

It’s one of the reasons Wolverine has grown to respect Professor X so much – because he coached him through hard times and never gave up on him.

There’s no need to beat around the bush when giving feedback. Be honest and clearly describe what you do and don’t like about the work.

Managers should also give specific examples. When feedback is too vague, it can leave workers feeling confused. They need to know what they’re doing well and how to improve.

But remember: There’s a difference between being brutal and being honest. Managers should always be considerate when giving feedback.

Professor X is a master at this. When one of the X-Men mess up, he’s pretty clear about what they did wrong and how they can improve.

It’s evident that Xavier has his team’s best interests at heart – which makes any feedback he delivers effective.

Create a dialogue
Giving feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street. Instead of turning it into a lecture, open the conversation up and create a dialogue with the employee.Constructive Feeback - Xmen talking

Ask the employee how she feels about her work and if she has any suggestions or solutions. And then join forces to come up with a solution together.

When an employee feels like he has more of a say in things, he’ll take more ownership of his work. That means more motivation and, hopefully, more productivity.

Professor X takes a similar tact when dealing with Cyclops, a leader among the X-Men. Xavier gets Cyclops’ take on things when they face villains, and he trusts the X-Man to make the right decisions.

Xavier’s respect and dialogue with Cyclops is one of the big reasons the X-Man has been able to grow as a leader and true superhero.

Don’t make comparisons
Don’t compare an employee’s work to a co-worker’s, even if it’s a flattering comparison. It’s a trap that can end up backfiring on you.

No two workers are alike – they each have their own unique working styles and super-powers. So making comparisons just sets the stage for conflicts and resentments.

You never hear Professor X comparing the X-Men to each other. It’s hard enough managing the emotional bunch of young mutants, let alone having them compete against each other.

Xavier knows each mutant has his own abilities, strengths and weaknesses. He compares them to what they were like when they first joined the X-Men Academy, but never to their fellow superheroes.

Giving feedback is the main way superhero managers keep their employees growing and developing so they’re ready to fight any type of supervillain or plot for world domination.

So next time you sit down to give an employee feedback, think of Charles Xavier. You may not have telepathic abilities like Professor X. But you have a wide range of other super powers that’ll enable you to put this advice into action and save your workplace.

What feedback tactics have you used to coach your employees? Let us know in the comments!


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