Sharing Feedback: A Challenge to Overcome for Managers Advice from Marion Sulpice, Management Coach

Becoming a manager for the first time is not always easy. Especially when 66% of managers report having difficulties managing their teams. One recurring challenge for new managers is giving feedback. Yet, feedback is one of the main levers for motivation, performance, and talent retention.

Regular feedback is estimated to increase engagement by 50%, performance by 25%, and reduce attrition by up to 30%.

So, why is feedback a difficult exercise for new managers? How can one remedy this to establish a positive and effective feedback culture in their company? These are the questions I posed to Marion Sulpice, a professional coach specializing in supporting new managers.

Why is feedback an essential exercise for properly supporting your teams?

Feedback is an exercise often overlooked by many companies and managers, and its power remains underestimated. Yet, it is the best tool a manager has to support their employees. This essential tool serves several functions, all equally useful.

First and foremost, feedback is a communication tool: it allows the manager to communicate effectively and with structure with their employees. By establishing regular feedback with their employees, the manager creates a continuous dialogue, which is crucial for the proper functioning of a team. This allows them to stay close to what their employees are experiencing, better supporting and helping them to gain perspective.

More specifically, we can identify two types of feedback:

Negative feedback: It aims to address behaviors and actions that need improvement or do not meet expectations. This feedback helps the employee to quickly improve by adjusting their actions.

Positive feedback: Often forgotten, it highlights an employee's successes. This type of feedback is a significant lever for motivation and engagement because it provides recognition, a fundamental psychological need for everyone. It should not be neglected!

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It is important to remember that every employee seeks to progress and evolve. We all have blind spots; giving feedback as a manager provides the missing information needed to meet their need for progress.

However, feedback, especially negative feedback, is often a difficult exercise for new managers. Why?

Primarily because of its inherently negative connotation. Negative feedback is a real bugbear for first-time managers, and not just them! Even the most experienced managers who haven't overcome this hurdle face difficulties.

The term "negative" attaches a negative label to feedback: something bad.

This is why I believe that using the term "constructive feedback" can help new managers. Not just as a euphemism, but to focus on the real value of this type of feedback: providing a fair and honest review to help the person improve.

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Beyond this common perception of feedback among new managers lie several fears that make this exercise difficult, and the belief that to be a good manager, one must be liked by their employees.

The most frequent fears are the fear of the employee's reaction, and thus of conflict, the fear of hurting them and being seen as "mean," and the fear of not being legitimate enough to give feedback.

These fears are common to most managers and are even more pronounced in those who take over their former team. Understanding and accepting that a manager's role is not to be liked by their employees, although it's pleasant, but to help them grow, which is sometimes uncomfortable, is a first step to approaching feedback with more ease.

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How does this manifest in the managers you support?

A business leader I recently coached (the difficulty is not limited to new managers) had trouble with negative feedback. He felt overwhelmed by his emotions and froze when it came to giving feedback or correcting an employee. In his mind, this meant being mean, and his fear associated with this belief took over. The consequence was that he didn't give feedback, his employees didn't progress, and situations that harmed the company persisted, affecting overall performance.

We worked on managing his emotions: learning to name them, identify them, understand what was happening within him at those moments, and regulate them, as well as addressing his limiting belief. We then improved his communication style, which we also worked on in coaching.

Simply becoming aware of his patterns and understanding his fears allowed him to take a big step forward, and he no longer shied away from giving feedback. It was a significant victory!

How can one become comfortable giving this kind of feedback then?

To become comfortable with negative feedback, the work is done on multiple levels. First, understand your mindset, become aware of your patterns to steer them towards something more helpful, and then move into action! There is no secret; it's by taking action and practicing regularly that you truly gain ease. This requires accepting the initial discomfort.

Here are some tips for new managers:

  • Change your perspective on feedback. Instead of thinking "negative," think "gift." Every word has a particular importance and energy. Viewing feedback as a gift to your employees, an opportunity for growth, will already help you approach the exercise with a more positive mindset.

  • Identify your beliefs about feedback. Take the time to observe and note what you tell yourself about it, what you think, what you feel. Then question the truth of these statements. For example, if you think giving this kind of feedback will hurt your employee, ask yourself: what makes me say this, do I have proof, a concrete example?

  • Use the mirror effect: how do you receive and perceive this kind of feedback? Are you comfortable as a recipient, or do you take criticism poorly? This can influence how you view feedback as a giver.

Companies also have a role to play in promoting a feedback culture.

By cultivating this mindset and making it something natural, even cool, they provide a favorable framework for managers and employees to feel comfortable with feedback.

Can you give a concrete example of a young manager you coached on this topic?

I am currently coaching a manager on her new role; she now leads the team she was part of. She struggled to give feedback, especially to one of her employees with whom she had developed a friendship when they were colleagues. Whether it was announcing a decision or giving feedback on behavior not meeting expectations, she felt very anxious about doing it. She thought her employee would react defensively and take it poorly.

The result was that she kept postponing the task and communicated half-heartedly. Her impact was therefore limited, as well as her credibility and authority as a manager.

We worked on her thought patterns, starting with anticipating her employee's negative reaction, which was based on no concrete evidence. It was a belief rooted in how she herself received negative feedback.

We then adjusted her perspective on feedback to make it more helpful: feedback is an opportunity for growth and progress for the person, not a reprimand. One important point was to anchor herself in her role as a manager and what mattered to her: growing her team.

Connecting to her "why," to what deeply matters to her, is very powerful for making this type of decision and overcoming barriers.

Finally, I taught her a simple and effective feedback technique (the "sandwich" feedback, which has its critics but, in my opinion, makes the exercise easier for managers with these barriers). Using a method or technique provides fewer opportunities for interfering emotions and offers guidelines that help at the beginning.

In a way, is this working on one's managerial posture?

Absolutely. According to a recent study, 66% of managers find their role stressful, and 43% consider it too many responsibilities. Being thrust into a managerial position without support can be daunting, which is why many feel alone and helpless with their responsibilities. This notion of stance is crucial for being more comfortable with feedback and responsibilities.

Defining and clarifying your role and identity as a manager, why you do this job, your deep purpose, and the missions that follow: this is defining your stance. It allows you to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Within this global vision and projection, feedback regains its rightful place: an effective communication tool.

Working on one's managerial stance by learning to know oneself better and developing internal resources to handle these situations allows you to face responsibilities with more ease and pleasure.

Finally, are there methods to make sharing feedback easier?

Yes, I believe there are three main keys. The first is training. There are many feedback techniques (STAR, DESC, sandwich, etc.). Choose the one that suits you, practice it. Having guidelines will make the exercise easier, you will be more concise, direct, and constructive.

The second is to define your framework as early as possible. The clearer the framework and expectations from the start, the easier the feedback is because the rules of the game are known to all. This also helps to give feedback based on objective facts.

Finally, the third key is to practice. Like anything, the more you practice, the more you master it. Giving feedback will become easy and natural.

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What difference do you see between companies that invest in a feedback culture and others?

Studies show that companies with effective feedback cultures are simply more performant: their teams are more motivated, more productive, and more loyal to the company.

The feedback culture of tech giants like Google or Netflix is well known: these companies multiply rituals between managers and employees to maximize feedback opportunities. For example, one-to-one meetings between managers and employees occur every 7 or 15 days; annual reviews are often replaced by quarterly or semi-annual reviews, and spontaneous feedback is encouraged and normalized.

By making feedback regular, well-formulated, and actionable, these companies not only allow employees to grow and continuously improve but also defuse tensions, overcome small blockages, streamline collaboration, and continuously improve processes. The feedback culture benefits employees and enhances the company's performance.

This philosophy has inspired feedback platforms like Popwork, which facilitate regular, quality feedback between managers and employees.

To conclude, even though we often reference companies such as Google or Netflix when we talk about feedback culture, I want to emphasize that feedback is of course not reserved for the Tech and startup world; it should be a crucial element of the culture of all companies.

In fact, one of the most famous quotes on feedback was formulated by Warren Buffet! "Honesty is a very expensive gift; just don't expect it from cheap people." In other words, giving honest feedback is costly and requires managerial courage.

Thanks Marion for sharing your precious knowledge with our readers.

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Marion is a Professional Coach, specializing in supporting new managers in their roles and business leaders who have not had prior management experience.

Find more information on her website: