For managers, giving feedback is a perennial challenge.
Although employees overwhelmingly believe that constructive feedback is important for their development, only 5% report receiving it. The reason is understandable: Many managers shy away from opportunities to provide information that could help employees improve because they’re worried about negative reactions to difficult feedback conversations.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. Research shows that a growth mindset — the belief that people’s skills can improve over time — equips us with tools to provide meaningful, supportive feedback, making the conversation rewarding for managers and employees alike.
Praise the process
When an employee performs well, it can be tempting to praise them in a holistic way, telling them they’re “good at” a task. But that’s the language of a fixed mindset: the belief that people are innately gifted in some ways but not others. Instead, by praising the effort and strategies that led the person to success, we encourage a growth mindset — helping the recipient view feedback as an opportunity to hone an ever-evolving skillset.
Leaders can foster a growth mindset by rewarding improvement over time. When complimenting a salesperson for a job well done, for instance, highlight not just the contract they won but also the journey they took. Instead of attributing success to a person’s innate qualities, recognize the effort and persistence behind good results. In doing so, your feedback is more meaningful — and it encourages the recipient to revisit those effective behaviors when they face their next challenge.
Learn the language
Shifting the language we use is another powerful way to help employees receive feedback in a way that helps them grow. By focusing not on what employees have done right and wrong over the past year but on how they can develop in the future, you’ll keep employees’ brains in a “toward state.” In this positive, reward-oriented state, people are more likely to view feedback as an opportunity to grow and improve instead of seeing it as threatening. A simple way to make feedback more growth-oriented is to add the word “yet” to your sentence — as in, “I don’t know how to do that … yet.”
Additionally, it’s helpful to encourage your teammates to ask each other for feedback more often and talk to them about how to deliver it using the language of a growth mindset. When we shift the focus from “being good” to “getting better,” we make space for a growth mindset to flourish in everyday attitudes and conversations.
When managers shift the mindset through which they view feedback, it changes the tenor of performance conversations for the entire team. Instead of dreading reviews, your employees will see performance conversations as important opportunities to learn and grow.