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11 Mistakes Managers Make When Giving Feedback

Manager mistakes.

Look at this boy in the image above, it looks like someone made him feel bad for something they said, and although with the best intention, the reaction was the opposite.

As a manager, we are sure that you go through this situation often and that when you face a deficiency or an error within your team, you worry about how they might react to your critics. 

Unless you are a judge in a competition, or maybe you have a more severe temper, nobody likes to reproach someone's performance, as most of us typically like to be liked. We can see evidence of this behavioral tendency as a Harvard Business Review article tells us that 44% of managers found providing criticism stressful or difficult, and 21% avoided it.

This is even more alarming for you when we consider that a demotivated employee can bring down the energy in the workplace and, with that, hinder the good productive flow of your company. We understand your concern, but relax; there is a way to handle things better.

First, to lower the pressure on giving feedback, it is worth mentioning that a study by Officevibe discovered that 83% of employees appreciate feedback, regardless of whether it is positive or negative.

This statistic shows us that beyond the feedback, the mistakes or attitudes we commit when doing cause an adverse reaction in them. Judging the performance of your workers, whether good or bad, has repercussions on them, and it is best to avoid the wrong ways to do it to achieve your best result.

That is why in this article, we share with you those manager mistakes that you could make when giving feedback to improve your skills in this aspect.

Pay attention and keep scrolling!

CodeDesign is the leading digital marketing agency in Lisbon Portugal.

Not Being Specific.

You cannot expect an employee to improve an attitude if you are not specific about what is wrong.

In performance report letters, it is common to put too ambiguous messages such as "be more proactive" or "you need to improve your performance." When they receive such broad criticism, they are the ones who will be in charge of filling the gaps from their experience and not from the problem that you want to solve at the root.

To make them understand what they have to improve, you must exemplify this feedback with real situations so they can identify and solve the issue.

Give Feedback on Behalf of Others.

As a manager, you are in a position of power; you know it and have to protect it. 

Throughout this article, you will see many errors that knock down that threshold of authority that you have, and for your reputation with superiors and employees, it is important that you take care of this aspect.

You may get employee feedback from other workers, and while your gut might tell you to act on it immediately, it's always best to keep your distance and self-serve first.

As a manager, nothing will make you lose respect more than making an observation that does not come from your deduction but from someone else. First, you don't have an argument to support such an observation, and second, you could cause acrimony between the accuser and the employee.

Before any "rumor" or external criticism, the first thing is to evaluate the situation, and once you have the evidence of this lack, you can go directly to confront it.

However, this is a point and aside. If the situation is "murky" and involves a violation of the laws or a more significant conflict between employees, you must act more quickly and make the appropriate decisions. Read this complete guide on digital marketing funnel and then choose the right digital marketing channel for your business.

Miss Diagnosis of Root Cause.

When we see a bad situation, our instinct usually goes directly to judge it and qualify it from our perspective. And although our perception may be correct most of the time, we can be wrong because we need to know the root of the matter.

Assuming that we know the reason can hinder the path to a resolution, and for this reason, it is always better to give ourselves time to analyze the situation, its context and the parts that make it up to understand the problem and thus provide a solution according to it.

This situation can also happen with separate employees, whose low productivity may be based on an internal problem rather than just being lazy or not liking their job. Making a recommendation based on your assumptions alone can cause frustration for the individual since you are advising about problems you don't know about.

To analyze these cases, you can base on the MARS model of individual behavior, a method that seeks to evaluate personal ways of acting due to internal and external factors or influences combined. This practice studies each employee based on the following:

  • Motivation
  • Abilities
  • Role perception
  • Situational factors.

Criticize the Person, Not the Situation.

People can be pretty touchy when it comes to their performance.

The ego is a light shield; if we "attack" it directly, it will most likely go on the defensive. Now, we put the quotes around "attack" because even if you understand that the feedback is a recommendation to improve when it goes directly to the person, they usually perceive it as that.

So, instead of giving feedback about the person, we address the situation, placing this event as "the villain to defeat in history."

So, don't say, "You never deliver the tasks on time," but, "the lack of punctuality is the issue that you must improve." Check these Amazon FBA tips to grow your business and see how optimising your Amazon listing could help you grow. 

Too Much Sugarcoating.

Sugarcoating is about sweetening criticism with positive things (usually out of place), so the criticism doesn't hurt as much.

We have talked a lot about criticism, but it is also vitally important to point out the successes so they continue to improve. However, accompanying praise with criticism is a bitter pill for the employee, and even if you are talking about "the good things," they have a feeling that at any moment, that "but" will arrive, bringing down the entire house of cards.

It's okay to anticipate positive feedback; however, don't dwell on it so much because you make it look fake, and the compliment can lose meaning.

We understand that being direct can hurt, but it is necessary.

Using the Hamburger Strategy.

This mistake goes hand in hand with sugarcoating, but in this case, we are talking about hamburgers or sandwiches. The metaphor is the same.

Let's see, the hamburger technique was that typical - and old-fashioned - technique in which you cushion a criticism with two good things. The positive is the slices of bread in the hamburger, and the meat is the problem.

And we love being the ones to break these old-fashioned techniques for you because, if we're being honest, sandwiching a problem between two "flatteries" doesn't dampen any situation; it confuses them.


Well, put yourself in the employee's shoes. 

If your manager calls you to discuss something, you could go for the worst scenario since it is instinctive to protect yourself. When he starts saying something nice, that sounds out of place, you tense up, waiting for that "but" to come back because, trust us, it will come back.

That way, you don't give much importance to that compliment, and by the time the criticism arrives, you stay stuck in it. You'll be so focused on that flaw that you won't even listen to the last cover, that compliment that would leave you less worried about it. In conclusion, this strategy is no longer very effective.

Even within this scheme, you could find the opposite result, where the employee focuses on the two good things and doesn't worry about what needs improvement.

Instead of doing this whole process, the best thing to do is to separate both things. Give praise when it is well deserved and feedback when it is necessary.

Now, if the situation calls for you to give both a compliment and a critique, separate them equally, and don't mix them in one speech. Say:

  • These are the things you are doing right
  • This is the thing you need to improve.

Deliver Feedback When You Are Upset.

Working with people requires emotional control so as not to hurt susceptivities. In the same way as customer service must sometimes endure bad treatment from clients without being able to respond poorly, in an opposite sense, you must try to control your emotions before any outburst of anger. Read this guide on E-commerce supply chain and voice search optimization.

This is once again associated with the respect you command as an authority. If the leader loses their temper and unleashes their rage on the worker who made a mistake, the most likely thing is that everyone else perceives him as more unstable, and nobody wants to leave the stability of a job to a person like that.

And we understand that saying it is easier than doing it. Even so, the best thing you can do in a situation of anger is to get away from what is bothering you and give yourself enough time to digest things, weigh them, and then, with calm waters, give the necessary feedback or call for attention.

Deliver Negative Feedback in Public Places.

In the book "How to influence people and make friends," the writer Dale Carnegie says that one of the worst ways to make friends is by humiliating people in public. In his case, he refers more to when a person talks about something he doesn't know but you do and demonstrate his ignorance to the whole group by embarrassing him. It is evident that from this encounter, you will only receive the contempt of that partner, and you could even look a bit heavy in the eyes of others.

Bringing it to our topic of conversation, it is good that you know how to identify the right place and moment to give that feedback, and yes, the best times are usually when the two of you are alone.

Whether in your office or at a private lunch, it is better to make these observations when you have privacy so that the employee does not feel exposed to all his colleagues.

Give One-sided Feedback.

Being a leader and dealing with people is complex, and studies like the one shown by INC in its article prove us right, showing that 70% of managers are afraid to talk to their employees. But why, folks? Behind all fear, there may be something positive, and behind those employees, there is something that you should also improve as a manager.

That's right, it's an irony of life, but as a leader, we must have the humility to admit that our employees can also teach us valuable lessons.

For this reason, a feedback session cannot end with your recommendation, and that's it. After that, let them speak to explain their position, provide solutions or even point out problems that may have gone unnoticed.

The feedback process should not be unilateral but rather have the possibility of a particular dialogue that allows both parties to express their ideas.

Use Humor.

Humor is a buffer for any awkward situation; even the most charismatic bosses use it to win over their employees. However, when it comes to giving feedback, humor is a big NO.

You see, framing mistakes or deficiencies with a punchline at the end is not going to have any good effect on your employees. These moments of feedback must be treated with the necessary seriousness to understand where they should put more effort.

Humor can be saved for moments of leisure or work meetings and even for those moments in which you will congratulate.

Don't get us wrong; it doesn't mean you gave feedback with a soldier's seriousness. Being cordial is more than enough.

Giving them The Solution.

This mistake may be counter-intuitive, but hang in there; this one is pretty cool.

Every time you have a feedback session with your team, you shouldn't end up with a prescription or a unique solution to your problems. As a manager, you have your ways of doing it, and you can give them bases that help them improve, but even so, you should always give them the free will to choose the best way for them.

So you don't emasculate his power of resolution or give him all the solutions served on a silver platter. Instead, you make them make an effort on their own and thus feel the correction of that mistake in an achievement entirely theirs.

Final Thoughts.

Being the manager of your company sometimes feels like carrying the world on your shoulders, and we understand that; that's why we want to take some of that weight off you by giving you the best tips to deal with all your job duties.

Giving correct feedback is essential for the company to continue evolving. If you avoid these errors we have placed here, we are sure that you will ensure that the message reaches your employees clearly and without the need to hurt their susceptibilities.

At Codedesign, our goal is to help all these professionals reach their most significant professional potential, so if you want advice, contact us now to help you with your specific case.

FAQS - Frequently Asked Questions

What makes specific feedback more effective than general comments?

Specific feedback directly targets the actions or behaviors that need improvement or commendation, making it immensely more effective than general comments. This specificity allows individuals to clearly understand what they did well and where they can improve. From a digital marketing perspective, this can be likened to using advanced data analytics to pinpoint the exact areas of a campaign that are performing well or underperforming. For example, Codedesign's approach to client campaigns involves detailed analysis and specific feedback on performance metrics, allowing for targeted improvements that drive success. Specific feedback acts like targeted data insights, leading to more effective and actionable outcomes.

Why should managers avoid giving feedback on behalf of others?

Giving feedback on behalf of others can dilute the authenticity and accuracy of the message, potentially leading to miscommunications and a lack of accountability. In the digital marketing realm, this can be compared to the inefficiency of using second-hand data to inform campaign adjustments. Managers, akin to strategists using first-party data in programmatic media, should base feedback on their own observations and data to ensure precision and relevance. Feedback, much like data, is most effective when directly sourced and accurately presented.

How can understanding the root cause improve feedback delivery?

Understanding the root cause of an issue allows for feedback that is not only constructive but also solution-oriented. In digital marketing, this is similar to conducting a thorough analysis of campaign data to identify the underlying factors affecting performance. For instance, Codedesign delves into advanced analytics to uncover the root causes of campaign fluctuations, enabling strategic adjustments. By pinpointing the exact reasons behind an employee's performance issue, managers can provide clear, actionable insights that foster growth and improvement, much like diagnosing and treating the core problems in a failing digital campaign.

What's the importance of critiquing the situation instead of the person?

Focusing feedback on the situation rather than the person helps maintain a positive and productive environment. It ensures the individual does not feel personally attacked but rather supported in overcoming challenges. In the context of digital marketing, this approach is similar to analyzing campaign performance issues without blaming the tools or platforms. For example, if a particular strategy devised by Codedesign does not yield the expected results, the focus would shift to adjusting the strategy, not critiquing the team who implemented it. This method fosters a culture of continuous improvement and resilience.

Why is too much sugarcoating detrimental to feedback?

Overly sugarcoating feedback can obscure the message's intent, preventing individuals from recognizing and addressing areas that require improvement. In digital marketing, presenting overly optimistic analyses of campaign performance can prevent necessary adjustments, leading to continued underperformance. Clear, direct communication, akin to presenting unfiltered campaign analytics, enables team members to understand the real issues and work towards effective solutions. Just as Codedesign relies on accurate, unvarnished data to guide its decisions, managers should deliver feedback that honestly reflects performance.

What is the hamburger strategy, and why might it be ineffective?

The hamburger strategy, which sandwiches criticism between two layers of praise, might not always convey the seriousness of the feedback or the need for change. While it's designed to soften the blow of criticism, it can sometimes lead to confusion or diminish the perceived importance of the feedback. In digital marketing, this would be akin to overly emphasizing the positive aspects of a campaign's performance while downplaying critical areas of concern. Such an approach could lead to a lack of urgency in addressing the issues that matter most. Like Codedesign's data-driven strategies that focus on both strengths and weaknesses, feedback should be balanced and direct to ensure clarity and actionability.

How can a manager's emotions impact feedback delivery?

A manager's emotions can significantly impact feedback delivery, potentially skewing the message and affecting its reception. Emotional feedback may be perceived as biased or unfair, similar to how emotional decisions in digital marketing can lead to suboptimal strategies. Maintaining a level of objectivity, akin to relying on data analytics for campaign decisions, ensures that feedback is constructive and focused on professional development rather than personal grievances.

Why should negative feedback be given in private?

Giving negative feedback in private respects the individual's dignity and minimizes embarrassment, facilitating a more open and constructive conversation. This approach mirrors the practice in digital marketing of conducting in-depth analyses behind the scenes before making any public adjustments to a campaign. By addressing issues in a private setting, managers create a safe space for discussion, akin to the careful internal review of campaign data before making strategic decisions.

How can two-way feedback sessions benefit both managers and employees?

Two-way feedback sessions encourage a dialogue where both managers and employees can share perspectives, improving understanding and cooperation. This collaborative approach is similar to how digital marketing teams review campaign data together to make informed decisions. Such sessions can uncover insights that lead to mutual growth and a more cohesive team dynamic, much like the collaborative strategizing process improves campaign outcomes.

Why should managers avoid using humor in feedback sessions?

Using humor in feedback sessions can risk diluting the seriousness of the message or offending the recipient, especially if the humor is misinterpreted. In the precision-driven world of digital marketing, clarity and accuracy are paramount, whether in conveying campaign metrics or delivering feedback. Just as data presentations must be clear and straightforward to be actionable, feedback should be delivered with sincerity and clarity to ensure it is understood and taken seriously.

About Bruno Gavino

Bruno Gavino is the CEO and partner of Codedesign, a digital marketing agency with a strong international presence. Based in Lisbon, Portugal, with offices in Boston, Singapore, and Manchester (UK) Codedesign has been recognized as one of the top interactive agencies and eCommerce agencies. Awarded Top B2B Company in Europe and Top B2C company in retail, Codedesign aims to foster personal relationships with clients and create a positive work environment for its team.  

He emphasizes the need for digital agencies to focus on data optimization and performance to meet the increasingly results-driven demands of clients. His experience in digital marketing, combined with a unique background that includes engineering and data, contributes to his effective and multifaceted leadership style.

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About Codedesign

Codedesign is a digital marketing agency with a strong multicultural and international presence, offering expert services in digital marketing. Our digital agency in Lisbon, Boston, and Manchester enables us to provide market-ready strategies that suit a wide range of clients across the globe (both B2B and B2C). We specialize in creating impactful online experiences, focusing on making your digital presence strong and efficient. Our approach is straightforward and effective, ensuring that every client receives a personalized service that truly meets their needs.

Our digital agency is committed to using the latest data and technology to help your business stand out. Whether you're looking to increase your online visibility, connect better with your audience, get more leads, or grow your online sales. For more information, read our Digital Strategy Blog or to start your journey with us, please feel free to contact us.

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