LME013 – Powerful feedback – Interview with Jill Schiefelbein

Today we talk all about powerful feedback in business. It‘s not easy, is it?

Therefore, I invited Jill Schiefelbein to talk with me about dynamic communication and especially about how to give feedback.

Jill Schiefelbein

Delivering powerful feedback with Jill Schiefelbein

Delivering powerful feedback with Jill Schiefelbein

Jill Schiefelbein is an award winning business owner, speaker and author.

She taught business communication at Arizona State university for 11 years. She analyzed terrorist documents to help provide counter-terrorism messaging strategies to the military and she was a pioneer in the online education space.

How to give powerful feedback

Dynamic Communication: 27 strategies to grow, lead and manage your business by Jill Schiefelbein

She knows about communication. Today Jill is called the Dynamic Communicator. She creates and executes communication strategies for all kind of organisations.

Her latest book has the title: „Dynamic Communication: 27 strategies to grow, lead and manage your business.“ And it’s really worth reading if you watn to learn about poerful feedback. I’m happy to have her on my podcast today.

We are talking about the biggest mistakes when people give feedback in the workplace. But we also cover problems like:

  • How can managers successfully criticese without being rude or offending?
  • How can they still make a clear statement?
  • What do you need to take care of when doing a formal performance review?
  • How can an employee criticise his or her boss without hurting the relationship?

Here is my interview with Jill Schiefelbein talking about powerful feedback.


The inspiring quote

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernhard Shaw

Links for further information


The transcript of my interview with Jill Schiefelbein:


Jill, most people will agree that feedback is essential when successfully working together. Now, I would like to know from you, what are the biggest mistakes when people give feedback in the workspace?


You know to me Bernd, feedback it’s really kind of like the motor oil that keeps a car’s engine running and without it, you’re going to break down and things will you know, stuff will build up over time, things won’t run as smoothly. And eventually it’s just chaos.




Or it fails to work at all. So, for me feedback, the mistake that I see a lot of people in organizations making is limiting feedback to more formal channels. So, you have maybe your annual performance reviews or you have you know, maybe you have a bi-annual performance review.

But, things that are more formalized instead of focusing on the minor feedback day to day. Or even you know, semiformal feedback that maybe you could do every bi-weekly or every month that would be more like maintenance instead of going in and having the whole engine taking out, you just have to change the oil routinely.


So, if I understand you correctly Jill, feedback is something which you need to do more or less daily if possible?


Ja, I think there’s always a place for it. And especially with the younger generations entering the workplace in force, I mean millennials are already a stronghold in the workplace. If we look at what comes next with Generation Z and beyond, it’s very much the expectation is regular feedback and not necessarily just daily but, almost every task that is completed.

And I’m not talking about the routine tasks, but if you’re given an assignment and you complete the assignment and your supervisor or manager gives you no feedback other than a thanks you don’t know what to do next. And so, we need to be very conscious that whenever there is completion on something or wherever there is clear progress made that we need to have opportunities for feedback conversations.


Ja, we have here in Germany a saying of one part in Germany if you don’t say anything that’s good enough, and I think that’s totally wrong. I think you will agree on that, correct?


It is one of my favorite axioms or sayings. Comes from a book that was written in 1975 by theorists, by the names of Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson, and in this book the pragmatics of human communication, they put out the idea that, one cannot not communicate.

Which means that it is impossible to not communicate and your silence actually communicates something. So, the lack of providing feedback actually communicates a lack of caring in many situations.


Ja, I fully agree. Now, how should managers if they give negative feedbacks, so it’s criticism, how should they take care that the criticism is really – comes over in the right way? So, that it’s without being rude or offending if you criticize your employee, but you still want to make clear that, this needs to be changed or that someone needs to do that in a different way in the future. How we should managers do that correctly in your opinion?


Well, for me I have three very clear rules to follow when giving feedback. And they work for both negative and positive feedback situations. And in fact, I’m going to go on a small tangent right now to kind of set up this answer if that’s okay with you?


Ja, sure.


Studies are showing that managers who believe that they are giving even positive feedback on a regular basis, but who don’t follow these three rules that I’m about to lay out for you will actually see either a stagnation, or a decline in productivity.

And that is when feedback isn’t directed, owned, avoiding disclaimers, and specific, we take it just kind of as a status quo. So for example, if I have a manager who is constantly saying, “Good job Jill, keep up the good work Jill. Nice work, awesome. You’re great, fantastic.” The manager thinks I’m an awesome manager, I’m providing positive feedback all the time.

Whereas, I don’t know what exactly I’m doing great, I don’t know why exactly I’m awesome. And so, the human nature would be, “Okay, I’m doing great. So, I don’t need to push harder.” So, I just kind of let it rest. #


It’s very generalized. So, I don’t know really what is it really I’m doing well? Correct?


Exactly. And when you don’t know what you’re doing well, you are just going to assume until you’re told otherwise that, “Okay, well I guess I’m just doing everything well so, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.” And I don’t actively look for will opportunities to improve because, okay great.

It’s just like even in school when you’d get a good mark on a paper, but you wouldn’t get any feedback. So, you’d make it a perfect score, but there’s no feedback about how you could develop or how you could push it even further.

You don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So, one of the three rules and I’ll be happy to give the other two as well is make sure that any feedback you give positive or negative is focused and specific, not generalized but very specific. And that it’s specific focused on a behavior and not a characteristic. This is important because characteristics we often don’t have in our immediate control to change. But, behaviors we can change.

So for example, if a characteristic of your personality is that you are a bit shy changing that or giving feedback on that is not going to be as impactful as giving feedback on a specific situation in which the shyness had an impact. And so, really being as specific as you can to the exact behavior and the variable surrounding that behavior is one of the three main rules that I have for giving good feedback.


Ja, that makes absolutely sense ja. Because the behavior you can change real characteristic of yourself. If you have a very high voice for example, and well you can’t change it. So ja, it makes absolutely sense ja, very good and specific. Ja.


It does. And the other two rules. The first one of which, and this is one of the things that I find people are doing wrong. So, more often than not and it’s such a simple change in a single word. But, a lot of times when people start off feedback conversations especially when they are corrective feedback conversations, they start with the word that verbally points a finger at someone and immediately puts them on the defensive.

And that word is you. You need to do this. You aren’t doing this right. You should do this. All of those things, but it takes us back to when we were young children. And I don’t know if it’s the same way in Germany, but in the United States if your parents yell at you using both your first and middle names, you know you’re in trouble, right, like you know.


Ja, no, that’s similar. Ja, I agree.


It’s not just, “Jill, get down here.” It’s, “Jill Schiefelbein.” And then you know you are in so much trouble. But, we have those things. And so, parents will use a name. But, other people who aren’t as close to you, it’s kind of this same thing as pointing that finger and saying, “You need to do this.” And whenever we hear that, the little kids inside of us, you know just kind of curl up. And we immediately go on the defensive.

So, what you need to do – I just even said that. What you need to do, if you’d like to improve your feedback in this situation, the thing to do is substitute the word I for the word you, and then put a descriptor in there. So, I realize. I know. I believe. I feel. I’ve observed. I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that you – and then lay out something specific.

It just sets a tone of a conversation in such a different way. And that ability for someone to be more receptive of what you have to say, especially when you need corrective action is very important.


It’s more a subjective way how you open the other person if I understand that correctly. If you say, “You need to do this.” They’re getting defensive. If you say, “Well, I recognize that you’ve done this and this and I felt that this was doing in this and this way.” Then it’s a totally different feedback. It’s more like a present to give to someone to see how I see him. Is that the way you would go in with this more?


That’s absolutely one way to interpret it. The other way to interpret it is that you’re opening up a conversation. When you start with the word you, you’re giving a command.

But, if you start with I it opens a conversation and in many cases you can actually get down to the root cause of why that behavior happened in the first place. But, if you start off by pointing a finger, you’re not likely to get there.


Ja, it makes absolute sense. Now I’m very interested for the third one.


Ja, so the next one is – so the other three. So, we have the you know, own your feedback. That’s what I call the first rule like using I instead of you.

And being specific and behavioral in the feedback we’ve talked about. The other one is avoid disclaimers and apologizing. And this may not be as common in other parts of the world, but in the United States, in North America, in general, I find people apologizing for nothing. “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Sorry to bother you.” “Sorry to do this.” When there’s actually no reason to be sorry.

Because for example, if I would say, “Sorry to interrupt you, but I need –” No, knock on the door. “Excuse me, I need.” There’s no, “Sorry to bother you.” Because if you were really sorry you would have found another way to get the information.

So, it’s really when you say things like, “I’m sorry” or “I just wanted to see if” or “I’m not sure if you feel the same way but” those things are all forms of apologies and disclaimers that actually take the power of the corrective effect away from your feedback opportunity.


Ja, it weakens the feedback. Ja, I understand.


It does. And when we also say those things, people don’t take us seriously everything that comes after that disclaimer or after that apology. Because if I say, “Bernd, I’m sorry we have to meet today, but we need to discuss” it sets up a completely different tone than you know, “Bernd, thanks for being here, we need to discuss.”

Very, very different, but yet it’s just so commonplace to use those words without even thinking about it. So, we have to be very conscious of what we’re saying in these situations.


Ja, there’s one thing what I was a missing in your three major mistakes. And I would like to hear your take on it and that’s if you really give feedback to someone, I feel that it’s more and more successful to do that if it’s under four eyes. So, if no one else is in the room, then I can give other kinds of feedback than if others are in the room, would you agree with that?


In most situations, yes. It always depends on the team culture and how the expectations have been set up within an organization. But in general, yes. I like to say we criticize in private, we praise in public.

So, when people are being praised in public and again in a very specific and behavior focused way, it can serve as a motivator for the team. But, even in that situation having those praise conversations one on one are also very, very important because you can go into a little more depth with the person on exactly what you appreciate, where you could be a little more general at the team level.


Ja, I agree. What I also would like to know if you’re a communication expert, what is it about this kind of giving feedback in a sandwich way? So, you know this, “Oh, you’re such a great person, you’re such a great employee, but ja, you need to slightly make it better.” But then, “You’re great.” What’s your take on this kind of sandwich feedback?


So, there’s two different perspectives on it. And for me the literal interpretation that most people understand just like what you said and how a lot of people train on is actually more damaging than helpful.

Because what follows the, but, is not often listened to. So, “Yay, this is such a great podcast. I love being on the show, but you know what I’m happy to do this.” We don’t remember the disclaimers. It kind of even ties back into my rules, right?

It’s a disclaimer that’s going at the beginning before you get to the course of action. Now, where I believe the sentiment of the theory comes from and I don’t think this is clearly explained anywhere, the sentiment is that over time we should focus on giving more positive than negative feedback, over time. Now, that’s not what the sandwich model says.

But, I believe that to kind of be at the heart of it, is that if all we’re ever receiving from a manager is negative feedback, it’s going to impact us negatively. But, that’s why the saying that you said earlier like if I don’t hear anything, I assume everything’s fine is actually detrimental. Because then when you do hear something, the only time you hear things is when it’s negative and that builds up on a person’s psyche.

So, to me the sandwich model in individual feedback instances, no, it’s actually more harmful and more damaging than good. But, the idea of giving just as much if not more positive feedback that again is owned avoids disclaimers and is specific and behavioral over time. That is the spirit of it.


Ja, I fully agree with that. That’s also my take on that. We already spoke about the performance reviews, which in some companies I think that’s the same here in Germany. That you just say, “Okay, we have to do that every year with our employee and he gets the feedback.” And these kinds of performance reviews in my feel are very often not very useful.

And you already said it that it’s we should give feedback much more often. I found it very interesting, this kind of one on ones where you really plan with your employee once a week or every two weeks, a really 20 minutes where you only talk precisely on not just feedback, but to build a personal relationship. What do you think about this kind of planned one on ones?


I think we need to have them built in. And I think they need to be things that are taken seriously in organizations and not a meeting that can be just passed off like, “Oh, you know it’s not essential to our day to day operations.” But, in reality it is essential because if you’re not again, keeping the engine running smoothly, the day to day operations are going to break down.

And so, what I would like to see implemented in organizations across the world is a more semi-formal monthly conversation where those data points are documented and collected, which then make the annual reviews for the raises for the board of directors for the things that we need to do.

Especially in public companies, government institutions, etcetera, all of those things where we have these antiquated, but still existing systems of having to put these annual performance reviews forward. You know, but we’re building them 12 months in the making.

Not just, “Wow, this last quarter was bad and it’s going to adversely impact how I’m viewing the performance review.” Just for the happen stance that that happens to show up in a bad quarter. And that’s not fair to anyone involved. But, when you have more documented data that you can analyze over time and see where people are at, it helps.

The other purpose of these weekly, oh sorry excuse me, monthly meetings it’s not just from a feedback standpoint, but it’s also how are the employees tracking towards their own personal and professional development goals? So, it’s not just the, “Oh here’s what you’re doing well and here’s what needs to be improved.” It’s “Alright, what have you done this month to actively push towards the goal that you stated when you first started working here that you want to be involved in x, y, z procedure?”

And managers who get employees who stay around longer are invested in both their professional and their personal development and finding ways to be able to implement that and integrate that within those monthly conversations I feel is very important.


Ja, I agree with that. I also see a third point here with the one on ones which full beside if they are not done, which I observed here in Germany very often you get a deeper relationship with your employee if you really do that at least once a month. Because it’s time you spend as a manager or executive which you really invest in your employee.

And if what I recognize is all the people have under very much of stress. And time is a very problem for most of the people to spend. And if they don’t do it in the calendar for this kind of one on ones, it could be that after half a year they say, “Oh ja, I haven’t spoken to John for a long time.”

So, I think it’s also a point that they get a closer relationship and a deeper understanding which is important for the trust level between the employee and the supervisor. Would you agree with that?


I completely agree with that. And one of the things and the pushback I get when talking with managers about this is, “Well, 20 minutes a month that’s a lot of time.” Well okay, so 20 minutes a month is an hour a quarter, which means four hours a year. If you have to replace that person, you’re going to be spending significantly more than four hours training and getting a new person up to speed.

And we know that the number one reason people leave jobs is management, not money. So, not investing in this you know, four hours a year per employee. If you do a 20 minute monthly meeting is going to cost you way more time and money in the long run. But, typically we don’t think about that. We think, “Wow, I’m losing this time now.” Not “Well, by doing this I’m gaining a lot of time in the future.”


Ja, it’s always the problem that if you’re doing this kind of leadership, it’s the long-term benefits you get. Short-term, if you don’t do it, you have short-term, you’ll have more time. But, in the long-term you lose a lot of time. You lose credibility. You lose trust. Ja, I absolutely agree.

Jill, I have one issue here with speaking a lot about how to give feedback to the employee. Now let’s go to the other side. Should an employee criticize his or her boss? And if yes, how can an employee give feedback to the boss without hurting the relationship or getting into trouble?


It’s a very, very good question. And I will shift the term criticism and just say giving feedback. We’ll just keep it kind of a neutral term because conflict for example, the word conflict most people feel as a negative term. But, conflict in fact is inevitable when you have more than one person working on something because we’re not the same.

Now, how conflict is handled takes it from being a neutral term to being either positive or negative. And I think the same is true for feedback. So, making sure – and this is something that I’ve studied a lot and there’s actually a chapter in my book on this and I call it directional communication, is you need to know what direction your communication is going.

And this is from an organizational hierarchical perspective or a perceived hierarchy. So, if someone for example perceives that they have power over you and you’re having trouble getting through to them, it’s probably because you’re communicating at them like a peer or maybe like some an employee instead of someone like a boss. So, there’s three levels, there’s upward, downward and lateral or peer level communication.

And if you have feedback or issues that you need to bring up to your manager, you’re communicating in this upward direction. So, it’s really important to go into these meetings with certain frames of mind. You want to go in with an amount of politeness and respect to the authority.

So, you know for example, “Thank you for meeting with me today Bernd. I know you know, at your level, at your job, whatever you have a packed schedule. And I’m really grateful you had time to see me, to talk about –” And then get right to the point, specific issue that you want to talk about.

And then also when giving that feedback, balancing it out. Again, using the three roles we talked about earlier, but also taking into consideration more of the company needs, the mission, the vision, the values, the purpose of the company. And so, whatever you’re going to suggest if there’s a confusion of how maybe it doesn’t fit, make sure you’re tying in bigger organizational picture issues to that conversation. And that’s a strategy in terms of communicating upward.

And unfortunately some companies don’t have that culture where that’s easily allowed. But, the other thing you can do if you don’t have that culture set up or if you’re not sure, you know, “Thank you for meeting with me. I would like to speak about this. Do I have your permission to give you my unfiltered observations?” Asking for permission to do that.

And then it’s on the manager to say, “No, I actually don’t want to hear that. Here’s what I want to hear about.” And guide the conversation, which is within their full rights to do. And that can actually be very impactful. They can say, “No.” Which very clearly communicate something or they can say “Yes.”

It’s one of three options that you’re going to get. Two of those three are going to advance the conversation forward. The third one, there’s probably a much deeper rooted issue at play.


Ja, and what’s at least here in Germany, I suppose it will be similar in the US you can say to your boss a lot of things, but do it under four eyes. Because he also plays a role so, if you do that when others are in the room, it is much more difficult even if you’re using the terms, asking for permission. Because a lot of people feel that they have to defend themselves and they don’t want to do that in a group very often. Is that similar in your opinion?


Yes. It’s so very true. And it’s again it’s anything that could potentially be perceived as negative, keep that private. Keep it between the two people or whoever is involved only. And you know it’s coming to people to solve a problem is also fine as well. I think about a supervisor I had when I was in the academic space. And this supervisor misspoke at a meeting.

At the time I was leading a massive online education effort and the dean of the college that I was working within was my direct boss. We both went to a meeting together. And he actually misspoke in the meeting, something that was factually incorrect about what we’re doing. And there’s one of those options. Do you right there in the meeting correct? In this case it was a him, correct him right in the meeting? Or do you sit and wait later?

And so, what I did was not counter him in the meeting. I just said, “And another perspective to this is. So, if you have questions you can talk to both of us about this.” Outside of the meeting approached him and said, “Jack, I want you to know why I said the different perspectives is because with the new system the university just integrated, what you said is no longer factually correct. And I’m sure you just didn’t know that.”

You know and he goes, “Oh, thank you so much for telling me. I’m really glad you spoke up.” But, if I would have said, “Actually Jack, that’s not correct” in front of the whole faculty babies that would not have been the best move.


Ja, so you took care that he didn’t lose his face.


Exactly. And sometimes it’s just a simple phrase or making a more factually correct statement if it’s public. So, you know he said one statement then I could say, “And within the new system that we just adopted, here is how this functions” instead. You know, it’s just still stating facts. And you can state facts. And you can state differences opinion without putting someone down.


Ja. I like especially the wording you used, and instead of, but. Just these small words already make a big difference. That’s great. I love that.


I am obsessed with the small simple semantic changes that you can make in language that really make a big difference over time. So, much so that they’re so – the word we would use is incipient. You don’t even know they’re hiding there, but they have this power. And it’s not you know, relevant and like obvious to everybody. But, when you do it over time with consistency, you’ll see a notable difference in your culture.


Ja. Now, using this kind of wording I would like to hear your take on my last question. And that’s what were you doing if you were in a project meeting and well, the going gets tough, you’re more in the lateral area with colleagues and one of your colleagues verbally attacks you. How should you behave? What’s an appropriate response in such situations?


The best thing you can do from my perspective, especially when someone’s mad at you in a public setting, is number one, recognize their frustration. In some way, shape, or form the worst thing you can do is ignore and move on. Because then a person who’s already mad is going to now feel mad and ignored. And that’s just not a good place for anyone to be.

So, let’s pretend you know that my manager well, we’ll just go back to Jackson. Since I used that term so, Jack is very upset with me in a meeting and kind of you know, publicly defaces me. What I can do is go back to those three rules of feedback that I gave you and say, “I understand from what you just said, that you’re frustrated with –” and name something specific. Is that accurate?

So, really own it. Say, “I understand” or “I heard” or you know, “From what you just said, I believe that you feel” you know, owning those statements as much as you can. And then put it back as a question. It’s a de-escalation technique.

You know, let’s say you and I were arguing Bernd and I said, “I believe I understand what you’re saying Bernd, is that you’re very frustrated that I wanted to do this and that didn’t fit within the model that you had laid out for the team. Am I understanding that correctly?”


Ja, that’s cool. So, you recognize my anger and you try to by giving me this kind of a feedback board you understand, you try to deescalate the situation.


You do. And what happens oftentimes in a group is if one person is having a hard time cooling down if I’ve handled it professionally in that way and I ask a question, “Am I understanding that correctly?” You either have a yes or a no response. And if it’s a no, then we can get down to the bottom of it. If it’s a yes, likely then people recognize it’s been a little deescalated.

And then I can if you don’t respond back, I could say. “Okay, I’m glad I understand correctly. In your opinion, what should the next step be then” Or in your opinion, what one thing should be changed first?” Again, getting very specific with the questions so that it’s not a, I’m not on the defensive. I call it I’m on the discovery.

And if you take that position from curiosity and being willing to discover what is making someone really upset, it positions you in a place of power and control and it lets you now steer the conversation. So, it’s a strategic move on two parts.


Ja, so the first one is recognize it. And then give the ball back and try to discover more in depth what is it really we’re talking about? Why are you so mad on me, or something like that, correct?


Exactly. And at some point other people can get involved in the conversation too, but the mistake I feel people make right off the bat is let’s say you say something very not nice to me in a meeting and I slammed down my hands and say, “Well, do the rest of you feel that way too?”

And there’s nothing productive that’s going to come immediately from that. So, you first have to make sure everyone is on the same page with what the disagreement is actually on. And then you can move forward in that conversation.


Ja, makes sense. Oh, I think we got a lot of great insights regarding feedback. I liked especially what we talked about in the beginning the three major mistakes. If you’re not specific, if you’re not focused, if you do give feedback, better say I instead of you.

And it’s very important to avoid the disclaimers. No sorry’s, no apologies if there’s nothing to apologize. I liked that very much. And Jill, I like to thank you very much for being on the podcast and giving us great tips for better communication for dynamic communication. Thank you.


Thank you so much for having me.


LME012 – How to give feedback.

As a manager, you need to know how to give feedback. It‘s your job to help your employees to develop and to improve. They need constructive feedback on their performance as well as on their behaviour – both positive and negative.

Listen to the podcast version

How to give feedback

How to give feedback?
Image: pressmaster/ Resource:


The Problem often: How to give feedback?

Understandably, many executives try to avoid giving feedback. They often don’t now how to give feedback and it is often not easy to give it openly. Also, many find it difficult to ask for feedback. But feedback is most important in leadership. It’s the best tool to help your staff to develop and it is a great way to support employee motivation – if done correctly.

Finally, if you critize, you might trigger rejection, displeasure and anger. It can be painful and it can lead to embarrassing situations, especially if people’s self-perception is challenged or you confront someone with unpleasant truths.

Feedback situations are therefore a challenge for both the one who gives feedback and the other who receives the feedback.

Do you mind if I give you feedback?

Everyone loves to be praised and to be confirmed. Who doesn‘t like to be praised?

With criticism, on the other hand, it’s different. If someone asks you,

“Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”

You’ll probably say

“No, of course not!”

… and you ask for the feedback. But deep inside of you, it’s hard for you to hear negative feedback. And let’s face it: it will be negative.

Praise and criticism

If someone explicitly asks for permission to give you feedback, he doesn‘t just want to praise, he mostly wants to criticize. But criticism questions our self-esteem. It triggers our defense mechanisms, because we believe our reputation is in danger. Actually, we want to be praised, but not judged.

That’s why when you give feedback, it’s less important what you say than how you say it.

Formulate feedback subjectively

Therefore, formulate your feedback subjectively as far as possible.

Instead of:

“John, you weren‘t well prepared in this conversation with our major customer. You answered his questions quite evasively!”

This statement claims objectivity.

“It’s the way I say it. John was not prepared.”

It would be better to formulate the feedback in an “I“-statement:

“John, I had the impression that you weren‘t well prepared for the conversation with our major customer. It also seemed to me as if you had answered his questions evasively.”

An “I“-statement doesn‘t claim to be the absolute truth. It only reflects what you have felt, seen, heard or experienced. These kind of statements are received as:

“That’s how I perceived you.”

Don’t critize in public

Feedback is intended to help the other person to reconcile his self-perception and his external perception, and to change the future behavior when necessary. You can much easier achieve this with “I“-statements.

I still remember my school days vividly. I was very good at maths and physics. However, I was lousy with learning languages, especially English. My grades in English mostly fluctuated between 4 and 5. In our German school system the grade „1“ is the best and 5 and 6 are the worst. Compared to the US grade system a „1“ would be an „A“ and a „5“ would correspond to a “D“, “E“ or “F“.

As you can surely imagine, I was terrified of having to write English class papers. But the worst was getting the paper back from the teacher. That was deeply demotivating and humiliating.

The process was always the same: all students were in the classroom. The teacher called the name of the student. Then he went through the rows and handed over the corrected paper and he shouted the grade loud and clear:

John – 3+

Brian  – 2-

Bernd –  5“

Simultanously, when he looked at me and shouted my grade, he mostly shook his head.

Don‘t do that. If you criticize someone, please don‘t do it in front of others.

To be criticized is almost always offensive to the criticized, even if it‘s well intentioned. That’s why you criticize, if possible, always in private and not in public.

Feedback should be constructive.

Praise as well as criticise. Standardised praise as well as generalizing criticism aren‘t helpful.

“John, your reports are always far too long. It doesn’t work like that.”

John has no practical use from this feedback. Are all his reports really far too long? Any report he has made so far? Wasn’t there this interim report a year ago. That was only one page long – so, John thinks: my boss is incorrect: my reports aren‘t always too long.

The better way to give this feedback is:

“John, your final report in this project is over 200 pages long. Our customer doesn‘t want and doesn’t need such an in depth analysis. In future, 20 pages will be fully sufficient for such final reports.”

Now John knows what he can improve. That is conctructive feedback.

The same also applies to praise:

“John, you’re doing a great job here with us!”

It’s a positive feedback. It‘s a compliment, but it’s very vague. Does the boss say this only to create a favourable climate? Does he really know exactly what I’m doing?

A constructive compliment is much more helpful and honest:

“John, you recently solved this interface problem for the MLG group very quickly. Excellent work. Helping our biggest client in such a short time has left a lasting impression on them – and also on me. You did a great job.”

This praise helps much more because it‘s constructive. Now John understands precisely what he did well.

Don’t critize too many points!

Very often managers critize too many point at once

If you give negative feedback, don‘t criticize too much at once. Otherwise, the person is overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to start improving.

Here’s an example: John has just made an important presentation for a customer. His boss gives him the following feedback:

“John, this was all too fast for me. You talked so quickly. There were far too many slides, too much text and only few pictures. Then you also made jumps, so I couldn‘t follow. And then, you constantly looked at the slides instead of looking to the people –  and the design of your slides: Our CI was missing. Our logo was not visible at all… “

And he’s going on like that.

This feedback isn‘t helpful. It overwhelms John with information. What is it exactly he needs to change the next time he’s going to do a presentation like this? With what should he start to improve? Apparently he did everything wrong.

It would be better to tell him only about one of the important mistakes, for example:

“John, I couldn‘t follow your presentation. I was lost after five minutes. What I observed is, that the other participants also seemed to have problems to understand what you were talking about. We were simply overwhelmed by the high number of slides in such a short time.”

The feedback here is: too many slides. This allows John to improve his next presentation.Also very important:

Give timely feedback!

If you give feedback – be it praise or criticism – do it in a timely manner. Then the situation is still fresh in memory.

However, the one who receives feedback must be able to accept it. His mind must be open to understand and to accept it. Especially when it comes to criticism.

Assume your employee has just made a big mistake – a huge blunder – he recognizes it and is – understandably – depressed and devastated. Then it may be timely, but it‘s not the right time to criticize him right now. Sensitivity is needed when giving him feedback.

In principle: There’s a time for everything. Find the right time: The criticized must be open to feedback. Otherwise it will not help. But don‘t let too much time pass between the behavior and your feedback. The more timely the feedback the more helpful it is.

5 important tips how to give feedback

Let me summarize what you should pay attention to when giving feedback:

  • Formulate Feedback in an „I“ statement
  • Give Feedback, especially criticism, preferably in privat.
  • Make it specific and contructive.
  • Don‘t give too much feedback at once.
  • Give feedback promptly, but only if the other person is open to it.


The inspiring quote

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”

Frank A. Clark

LME011 – Self awareness and how to build better teams – Interview with Jessica Pettitt

With Jessica Pettitt I’ll talk about self awareness and how to build better teams.

Self awareness

Self awareness is most important for a good leader. Having the ability to recognize what you are good at and where you’re not so good at or where you’re even lousy – is crucial if you want to be a good leader.

If you want to lead, if you want to inspire others you need to be self aware. You need to be open to work on yourself.

Jessica Pettitt

Jessica Pettitt

Jessica Pettitt

That’s why I invited Jessica Pettitt for an interview. We are talking about self awareness and about how this influences building and leading teams.

Jessica lives in New York. She is a speaker and author and has been stirring up difficult conversations for over a decade.

She performed as a stand-up comedian, spoke on stage as a diversity educator, and today she is moving teams from abstract to action. Jessica is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a Certified Speaking Professional.

In her book „Good enough now“ she ties together best practices of conversations, team building and inclusive climates.


The inspiring quote

If I could sell a formula made up of gratitude, empathy, and self-awareness it would be my billion-dollar coconut water idea.”

Gary Vaynerchuk

Links for further information


The transcript of my interview with Jessica Pettitt:


Jessica, leaders want to lead others, they want to inspire others and they want to influence others, but what’s often forgotten is, first of all, as a leader I need to take responsibility for who I am and how I am. I recently heard Gary Vaynerchuk pointing that out and he said,

“There is something that is really talked about in the business world and that’s self-awareness.”

In the first part of your great book Good Enough Now, you speak exactly about this self-awareness. What exactly is your definition of it and why is self-awareness so crucial?


Well, first off, thank you for having me and a great question to start off with. Self-awareness is the hardest and last thing we are likely to do, and the irony is that it’s free and it doesn’t take any additional tools or schooling to begin.

Ultimately, it’s about taking responsibility for who and how you are, and when you start noticing how you show up in relationships, or what your response patterns are, when you take responsibility for it you can keep the parts you really like about yourself. You can work on to develop or edit or change the parts of yourself you don’t like and then you can become aware of the incongruent pieces floating out in the middle.


But to do that, I think you need to go very deep and ask you, well, sometimes not very nice questions, at least, in some areas. What I would like to know from you, Jessica, is what can we do to become more self-aware? How do we do that?


It’s an interesting question because out of habit there’s a piece of us almost like a magic trick. When you see a magician perform you’re like: Whoa, how did that happen? And then there’s always that guy in the audience who’s like, “Oh, I know how it happened, first you do this, second you do this, third you do this, results magic trick.”

Self-awareness work is like a magic trick in the sense that from the outside it’s like, “How is this person so authentic, vulnerable, self-aware or confident? I don’t understand how they get that way.” And then somebody else is like, “Well.” When you start listing off what self-awareness steps are, it’s even worse than ruining a magic trick because to be self-aware means that you’re actually reflective. It means you’re listening and asking questions to people who know you better than you know you; you’re actually listening and responding to the answers that they give you – and that’s not as sexy as the magic trick.

Self-reflection literally means paying attention to how you show up and usually we can’t do it for ourselves at first consistently, so it means listening to other people. When people give you feedback, usually it’s negative feedback and the first thing we do is dismiss them. And then if someone gives you positive feedback, the first thing we do is deflect it because we don’t accept compliments. Both of those are places to start: stop deflecting and stop being defensive and really listen for patterns.


Yes, I understand that but isn’t it different from who’s giving the feedback?


In theory, I think depending on who it is, it depends how likely we are to validate the feedback or listen to it.


If I understand you correctly, you would say: But at least start with it and take it like a present if someone gives you this kind of feedback, independent if it’s “You’re doing great here,” or if it’s constructive feedback. Is that right?


Yes. What’s interesting is constructive feedback can come at you all the time and you can still blow it off as if it isn’t important, feedback that may or may not actually have anything to do with you, it may have to do with the person who’s giving the feedback’s personal agenda, maybe something that you really take in or are able to blow off, but you have to be able to notice those patterns to be able to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw out.


What I also observe very often is that people very long are not self-aware unless something happens in their life, something which changes their life totally. Maybe their partner left them or they were fired from their job and then something happens that they start to think more about themselves. Is that something which you also observe?


It took me getting fired three different times in order to actually. The first time it was totally their fault, the second time I was super defensive and like, “I don’t get why this happened,” and then the third time, I was like, “Alright, there’s one common denominator in all three of these situations,” that was me. “Did I have anything to do with this?” And it’s a hard question to ask but you are ultimately the common denominator of everything that has gone right and everything that has gone wrong in your own life. So then we get back to you already have the tools to do this. It’s just really hard work. What if it’s not anybody’s fault? What it it’s you?


Very often it is at least helpful to think: Okay, it seems to be me, at least, if it comes the third time. Correct? It’s also some kind of feedback, if you like.


Yes. I think what happens as you work the self-reflection muscles is that the feedback can come from you and actually be constructive eventually, at some point. If we give ourselves feedback it’s usually puffy accolades or it’s being really hard on ourselves until we realise how important a skill self-reflection is. Then you can start saying, “Wait, wait, wait, what happened here? Did I do that thing again?” Or, “Did this thing get me upset again? Did I jump to conclusions?” Did I react in a way that’s from my lived-experience and not what actually happened in the actual moment? And then you can go from there.


If I don’t change myself and think why the hell do I always get the same results? That’s logic in itself. Right?




What I also very often observe are managers who think they know exactly what needs to be done in their company or in their department but their team, their employees, just don’t get it. They think their team needs to change, the employees need to change their behaviour, they need to change their work ethic and it’s going on.

They want them to change but rarely do they accept they need to change first. You’re an expert on this kind of change. What are typical excuses why we generally think we don’t need to change, and what are your tips to become more open and more aware that we, that I, need to start changing first?


This is the ultimate question and the reason why is that at the root of it, a person who does not practice self-reflection doesn’t actually feel like they need to change, so we’re in a predicament where obviously something needs to be happening. We look outside of ourselves – me included. I wrote a book about it and I still do this, I just now have to catch myself. Right?

So, we look outside of ourself for blame or reasoning, or something like that, as if we have any control over anything outside ourselves so then nothing changes and it’s not our fault. Bad situations, break-ups, poor relationships, things like that are complicated and it often can take somebody else other than you to get into the predicament, you would actually have general control over yourself. So, if you actually want to take responsibility or improve a relationship, or benefit a culture, well, what can I do with this; what pieces of this do I have control over? “Oh, look, it’s me.”

Then you can flip all those kind of laser beams that are outbound to other people that you blame everything on and put them towards yourself – not to instantly blame yourself but take those laser beams and focus them on yourself with-, the language I use is “genuine curiosity,” – listen to yourself, the multiple layers of the voices in your head and determine: What did I just do? Really, what did I just do? Take responsibility for it. Keep the parts that you like. Notice if there are parts of things of how you just responded – which maybe in action or silence, or something like that, it doesn’t always have to be something big and bold and external. How did you respond? Is that what you intended to do? – then you start noticing your role in making a connection with someone else, and that’s actually inside of our control – at least some of the time.



Yes, I fully agree with that. What I also see very often is that people want things from others which they don’t bring to the table. Like, if I want all my team to be on time, 9 o’clock sharp, but I have excuses because I’m the boss, I can once in a while come late five minutes but they are not allowed to come late. Then the whole thing is not working, why should they change?


Not only is it bad role-modelling, but how much of your ego lands on them for the five or seven minutes while they’re waiting on you and you’re spouting the importance of timeliness? How much of your ego splatters on them with that incongruence? You’re doing that to yourself, that’s not them.


When we’re talking about teams and managers, most of these managers want to have their employees working as a high-performing team with great results etc. What are the ingredients for such a high performing team, in your view?


Even the concept of “Ooh, look, there’s a high-performing team,” – some high-performing teams are successfully working in massive levels of dysfunction. The “high-performing” means the few variables you’re looking at are measuring up in the way you want them to but you’re not looking at other variables, so they may actually still be dysfunctional.


Do I understand you correctly? You say from the outside, yes, they have great results but they are not really a high performing team, only regarding the results, but inside, it’s a mess. Is that what you’re saying?


Let’s go back to the boss that’s five minutes late who spouts the importance of timeliness. There is a possibility that if every one of those people began to show up to work on time the supervisor would think they have a high-functioning team, but once you check that off you’re now not paying attention to any of the group dynamics that are happening in the team.

What could be happening is that every single one of those employees has made a pact to job-search together and then the supervisor is going to be completely blind-sided by the very timely resignation letters of their entire team. So then the supervisor’s going to go from: I have this high-functioning team I show off, to being blind-sided by the truth. In that scenario, who actually has the control of not being blind-sided?


It’s the manager who thinks he has a high performing team, but he hasn’t.


Right. I would say to answer your question, if you want a high performing team, first off, that definition probably should be developed by the team. What are you measuring high performance: is it just sales and just numbers but the team has an extraordinarily high amount of personal illness and sick days? Or mental health is really bad because everybody’s so stressed out but their sales numbers are great?

On a human level, as a manager, what does a high performing person in your responsibility look like? As a team member, flatten the hierarchy out of it. As a team member, everyone including you as a supervisor or manager, how do you define ‘high performing?’ Get all of those variable out – maybe over the next 365 days no-one gets divorced, no-one is surprised by someone having to go to rehab, no-one begins to job-search, every single person has found at least one person they wanted to recruit to be part of the team so, as a manager, you’re overflowing with really incredible options of new talent.

Whatever you decide is high-functioning of the group that you were trying to get to be high-functioning, now you have collective definitions to hold each other accountable to. Including yourself. You create an accountability system within that group that everyone is equally in charge of.


To start something like that, if I understand you correctly, it’s important that the manager starts with doing a group meeting and telling: Well, that’s my expectations. He needs to open and then he has a good chance that the others will follow him and talk about their expectations. Is that correct?


Sure. When we go back to self-reflection, there’s a really good chance that some manager or supervisor is going to walk into the staff meeting and be like: Hey, I read this book, great idea, we’re going to flatten the hierarchy and redefine things. And the people sitting around the table are going to have a meeting after the meeting like: What was that about, because I don’t believe you because you didn’t have a healthy relationship to begin with.


So it will take time. If you start this journey and you’ve done things wrong in the past, it will take time until your employees will open for this. Correct?


Yes, absolutely. I remember very early in my speaking career, a manager or supervisor kind of person, we were doing a pretty intensive retreat around staff dynamics and the supervisor came up with one rule, and the one rule was going to be: Speak your truth with care. Now, if you look at it at face value that sounds pretty good, right?

Always state your truth. Everyone else is going to assume that your intention is positive and you need to be responsible and take care that whenever you say your truth, it may hurt somebody else’s feelings, like, Oh, great! That’s sounds wonderful. But it was so inauthentic and so counter to how this manager actually related to anybody on their staff that when I checked in about six months after doing this training-, and I’m a consultant so I fly in and fly out, about six months later I happened to be in town and set up a lunch with some of the employees, anybody who wanted to come just to check in and see how things were going, and they all showed up wearing these t-shirts.

They had secretly made t-shirts that mocked this rule. On their t-shirts was: Speak your truth with care, and it became this mocking tagline because this supervisor really wasn’t doing it and when other people were doing it they were getting in trouble for speaking their mind. He would make insubordinate letters and things like this. So the role-modelling piece of it, what that means is that you’ve taken responsibility to be reflective enough to actually do what you’re asking other people to do. His staff were completely unified against him more six months after doing a training than they were when I was first there because he had just gotten that much more controlling, that much more inauthentic and that much more out of touch with his own employees.


So, could you do anything about it later on?


I talked to the employees about it and I was like: If you’re this unhappy, what are you doing? They said what’s interesting is that morale is at an all-time high because they were able to unify around the ludicrousness of their supervisor, so they actually weren’t looking to change jobs, they just had no respect. And if you don’t have any respect then your innovation and your creativity are completely stifled. You’ll keep cashing your pay checks because you like your co-workers.


But you’re not really doing a good job any longer.


Yes. And for some people who aren’t paying attention that looks like a high functioning team.


I get what you say, yes. It comes back to the beginning that this manager, this supervisor you mentioned, seems not to have the self-awareness because, I understood, he might think that everything is going correctly. Right?


Right. Like: No, sir, you’re really wrong.


Okay. So he needs some kind of different feedback. Jessica, if we’re talking about teams, what’s your take on diversity? I know you’re a diversity trainer, how diverse is normally a good team?


Well, that’s a great question, too. I do come from a diversity training background and, certainly, I would say that my topic area is around diversity and inclusion. The trick to your question, going back to magic tricks, is often, organisations in their strategic plans or governing documents or something, will declare, with their fist in the air, they will declare that: We will make things 10% more diverse than they currently are. And what’s problematic with that is twofold: 1) By when and how; can I get some specifics? And, 2) If you don’t actually know how diverse your current team is, increasing it by 10% is impossible.


Yes, I agree.


If you haven’t had a real conversation about what does diversity and inclusion mean in this group, then you can’t increase it by 10% Often we immediately default to gender and race. That’s it. But you can have a very diverse group of people across gender and race and still have a very unsuccessful inclusive-based culture. It just depends. Again, I think this is a definition that needs to be created by everyone it impacts but the first step of inclusion is acknowledging: Who is not welcome here? Who are the outliers of the people that already exist and why is that the case?

If you have a staff of introverts, the really perky extrovert who brings cake for everybody’s birthday and has mandatory fun things set up, is going to be an outlier even though they may have the external skills that again somebody somewhere in a Sales Book said is a high-functioning person. So the subjectivity of fit needs to be discovered as to what “fit” actually means currently with the team, and what needs to improve with that.


Would you say a team itself would do that, the kind of team culture we have? Or is it even bigger that the company has to do that first, in your view?


Yes. The answer is yes.




If the higher level echelons-, Let’s take some megalomaniac company like Amazon. If the top five people sitting at a table were to determine how they’re going to make Amazon more diverse, how is that going to trickle down to their 6 million employees around the world?


It’s a challenge.


Right. I will cash that check, I will help you have that conversation but you are probably not going to be successful at it because you don’t have the relationships with the people who are directly impacted by the policies you’re making, because they make you feel good. Now flip it around. If 6 million employees, let’s say they have a union, or they have an employee resource group where they have leaders of multiple employee resource groups, who can then trickle and communicate a joint message against the bulk of the people who are involved in these employee resource groups;

they may not hit 6 million people but let’s say they hit 200,000 people and out of those 200,000 people back-and-forth keeps happening and the 200,000 people trust these six people who are in leadership of these employee resource groups, and those six people collaborate and communicate back-and-forth to the people they represent, and then a collective definition, or a collective list of things that need to occur, is developed and then that gets passed up. The top five people sitting at some very polished table could receive that list. Are they confident enough and are they self-reflective enough to receive that list and go: Oh, wow, thanks for all that work. This is amazing. We’ll get right on this.


I would say, maybe 20% with 80% of the top management, I would assume, are not able to do that.


I’m surprised you stopped at 80. I think it’s very hard, out of context, to take a list and not see a list as some kind of ransom demands. You get really defensive, you’re like: What are you talking about? – and more importantly, in a lot of corporate structures, you turn to Denise because it’s Denise’s job to make sure that these things are handled.

But Denise does not have the community or the social capital or the resources or, likely, the full respect from the other people at the shiny table to be able to address the situation and, if anything, she gets blamed for these things so then nothing happens. So, we’ve created these living, corporate organisms and we expect one person, or one particular outlet, to basically:

Don’t get the company sued. And that’s not an environment of self-reflection, that’s not an environment of responsibility and betterment, that’s an environment for capital gains. I mean, I’m a controversial person but even Starbucks recently did a company-wide anti-racism training in response to one situation that made the news, at least here in the United States, and the training they did was two hours long-, and you can’t fix bias, unconscious bias, conscious bias, racism – you can’t fix that in two hours but, as a company, they closed down and had a company-wide two hour training, which is an amazing initiative.


It’s a first step, isn’t it?


Yes. And if the goal is, in this case, I think the primarily upper-class white people who feel safe at Starbucks, who no longer can get in their Subaru’s with their “co-exist” bumper stickers and feel like a progressive liberal because Starbucks is a bad place – closing down for two hours to make those progressive, liberal white folks feel like they can go back to Starbucks, that’s good for business. But does it actually address racism and anti-bias, and is it starting a self-reflective conversation to role-model with other major corporations about what they’re doing around anti-racism work? That is yet to be seen.


If I understand you correctly, it can be a first step but in the end it has to come from all the people inside the company? So we’re back on that. Even as a manager or a supervisor of one of your teams, if you start that and others will follow, it can change. Even if it’s slow working, at least in some of the teams, right?


Yes. You’re touching on the most critical part. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and just be, “Well, how am I supposed to get everybody to do this? Well, never mind.” Yes, it’s really overwhelming, and sometimes doing individual self-reflection work is really underwhelming so neither of them happens. But you have control over yourself. If you’ve decided this is important and you start your own work, eventually that will shift the culture and it will shift how you show up in those relationships enough that other people might start doing it.


Yes. That’s also what I see very often that managers say “Well, what can I do? I only have my team here of ten people but the company is 10,000 people, I cannot change anything.” But that’s not true. If you change at least in your way, in your small universe, if others do that aswell then things can change.


Yes. And if you look at whoever your role models are, whoever your role model is, at the heart of it is one individual person who hits news, has had some horrible break-ups, probably has some addiction issues and is not liked by every human being they like but they’re still doing good work, they just have to do the self-reflection work to balance those things out.


Jessica, we were talking about more serious and tough issues which are normal if we’re thinking about the corporate world. There seems to be no place, very often, for funny things and jokes, etc. You know how to be in this serious business world, but I also saw that you were not just a professional speaker but also you’ve done stand-up comedy.

You’re an expert on stand-up comedy aswell, and I would like to know from you, what’s your take on how to get more humour into this very serious business world? What can a typical manager do to make a lot of boring meetings and sometimes tough work a little bit more easy and enjoyable with some kind of humour? What tips to you have here?


I think that’s an incredibly important asset in my own work, and what I find is that humour is the great equaliser. It has to be the right humour with the right people, at the right way, at the right time. And that’s the really hard part. So I don’t have any super secrets on what that is except when you try a joke and it doesn’t work, take responsibility for it, and really reflect on the joke: Is it at someone else’s expense?

Is it self-deprecating in a way that you really shared too much about yourself with someone else? Or do you not have the relationship with the people you’re trying to do the humour with so they don’t understand how to react? Some people’s leadership style – my language, is so tyrannical that when a tyrant cracks a joke, you don’t know if you’re supposed to laugh or not.


Then it’s not working at all. Yes, I understand.


Right. So if you have more authentic conversations and more authentic, vulnerable connections with other people, then you can actually bring their sense of humour out. You don’t have to be the person to stick it into the room all the time. You could provide a space for people to play and joke, and if they’re not currently doing it at that really boring staff meeting, it’s because you’re in the room, the person with the power. As soon as you leave, they’ll start cracking jokes again.


It clicked with me because I was thinking if I’m not a very humorous person how can I still work with humour? And I think you’ve said it very rightly. If you give a situation, if you give the room that people who are very funny can be funny, or funny is not the right word – then this is also a way to bring in the humour without being very funny by yourself.


Yes. Take television and the late night shows. The later they get the funnier they tend to be. Not everybody on those shows is funny 100% of the time and you watch those shows expecting funny, so even when a skit or something like that doesn’t land on you, or it’s not particularly funny, you keep watching because you have a relationship with that program that it is going to be humorous. If that foundational relationship doesn’t exist, then humour can often be like:

What? Where did that come from? What is going on? You don’t start off at a ten, and I think that’s really important. Oftentimes, humour gets into a kind of scary zone because people are worried about sexual harassment or saying the wrong thing or being offensive, and humour has an edge to it and, depending on what kind of relationships you have in the workplace, you might need to stay far away from certain edges. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be light-hearted.

If I were to give advice to a leader of how do you bring some of that into the space, don’t lead with personal, vulnerable questions but start sharing some personal, vulnerable things. It might take people a while to adjust to: Why is this happening? – but if you start talking about this really amazing, funny thing that you saw one of your employee’s kids do on the kid’s soccer field and you’re highlighting how great somebody’s kid is, unless you threaten violence or potentially come off like a stalker: What were you doing at the soccer game? – there’s something familial about that that will allow more room for humour to exist. There is no topic that I have found where humour can’t have some presence.


Jessica, thank you very much for a lot of insights regarding team, regarding diversity and especially also regarding humour. It was a pleasure to have you in this interview. Thank you very much.


Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.


LME010 – Feedback about employee performance

Feedback about employee performance can be difficult. How can you make a clear statment without hurting people’s feelings?

As a supervisor or manager it’s your task to give regular feedback about employee performance. If you do this, especially if you criticize, you want to achieve something: you want to help your employee, for example, to improve his behaviour.

However, in order to help him accepting your feedback, you should be appreciative and respectful – and yet clear and distinct. It’s not that easy.

Listen to the podcast version

Useless feedback about employee performance


Here’s an example on how feedback went wrong and can destroy employee motivation:

John has been working as a service engineer for your company for three years. He’s a lot out there at the customer’s site to repair machines. You’re his boss. You appreciate John, because he works carefully and has a high level of expertise.

However, John is working very slowly. On average he needs twice as long for comparable repair work as his colleagues. Recently, a customer complained about a repair again because it took too long.

You want to help John to do the repair work faster. However, if he will not improve in the next 6 months, you will have John transfered to the internal custom service department.

That’s why you have a talk with John. You need to make a clear statement. Maybe you’ll say something like:

“John, again one of our customers has complained about you. You worked too slowly. You need to improve your working speed significantly.

If you don’t manage to handle the repairs in the same speed like your colleagues, then I will have to transfer you to the internal service department.

You need to improve in the next 6 months. I hope you understand. So make sure to get the repairs done faster.

Come on. In the end, it’s not really that difficult.”


That’s a clear statement. But does it show appreciation? Not at all. Such feedback hurts.

Wrong feedback destroys self confidence.

With such a critique you destroy Johns self confidence. It’s a terrible leadership mistake to give feedback in such a way. You only criticized him by generalizing – John‘s just too slow! – and you did not offer any help.

With feedback about employee performance you want to help but with this wrong feedback you just threatened your employee with the tough consequence if he doesn‘t change and works faster. This isn‘t constructive. This isn‘t supportive but it‘s leading with fear. That doesn‘t help at all.

How could you make this feedback about employee perfomance even worse? Give this feedback in public – in front of the team. That will be most destructive to Johns self-confidence. – Don’t do it.

When you criticize in this harsh way, you don’t get any positive change in behaviour! What you achieve instead is that John becomes totally insecure. He probably doesn’t know how to work faster without reducing quality. But will he ask his boss for help? Never. He fears you and therefore he doesn‘t trust that you will help him.

Respectful feedback is not enough…

Now, you may say:

“Exactly, once I had such a boss as well. You shouldn’t behave like that. If you critize you have to do it respectfully and offer help.“

Yes that’s true. But please don‘t fall into the other extreme: Some managers focus only on appreciation and respect, but don‘t dare to make a clear statement at the same time.

“John, I am very satisfied with your working quality. It‘s an outstanding quality you deliver to our customers. Really excellent.

Of course, I am aware that high quality takes time. High expertise is needed and a lot of things need to be checked. You have to work carefully. And you are working carefully. I absolutely appreciate this.”

John loves hearing this. He understands that his boss is very satisfied with his work.

“But I still have a little something: you know, the customers always want high quality but the time and the costs always keep pushing. You know what pressure customers sometimes build up.

It would therefore be good if you could carry out the repair work a little bit faster. If you need any help, just let me know. As I said, the quality of your work is excellent. You just need to work a little bit on your speed. – We understand each other, don’t we?”

Do you think that John understood what his boss had tried to tell him? I believe that John only got the positive message, not the underlying criticism.

In the evening, John comes home to his wife and tells her that his boss praised him.

“Darling, my boss is very satisfied with my work. He especially appreciates my high expertise and the excellent quality I deliver with my work.”

John only remembers what he wanted to hear. OK, he needs to be a little bit  faster with his work, but that‘s not decisive for him. He’s repressing it.

After 6 months, John is staken completely by surprise when his boss – i.e. you – put him into the internal service departement – supposedly without prior warning.

What went wrong with this feedback about employee performance? You recognize it: The boss has not dared to say clearly what the matter is.

Successful feedback about employee performance

Here is a correct statement, you as his boss should have made:

“John, I appreciate your high level of expertise and I also appreciate your high quality work when doing the repairs.

However, on average you need twice as long as your colleagues. I am sorry, but that is not acceptable. As you know, different customers already have complained about your work being much too slow.

If you don’t improve your working speed significantly in the next 6 months, I am sorry, but then I have to transfer you to the internal service department. I don’t want that and I know you don’t want that, either.

Now, how can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

That’s good feedback about John’s performance. Now he knows what his boss appreciates in his work. But he also understands that he has to be faster if he wants to keep his job. At the same time, the boss offers to support him.

Clear statement, but appreciative, respectful and with the offer to help:

How can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

If you give feedback about employee performance take care that you appreciate their good work, but tell them clearly what they need to improve. And offer them your help. That’s a good way to make a clear statement without hurting people’s feelings.