Are you comfortable giving feedback? Most managers aren't.

Even negative feedback is useful for employees to hear

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 29, 2018.

Few managers are comfortable giving their employees' feedback, but frank conversations are critical for employees' growth, Lou Solomon writes for Harvard Business Review.

Solomon is CEO of Interact, a communications consulting firm.

Interact conducted a survey of 2,058 U.S. adults, of whom 1,120 were employed; 616 of those individuals were managers. The survey found that 69 percent of the managers said they often felt uncomfortable communicating with their employees, and 37 percent said they felt uncomfortable giving direct feedback to their employees if they believed their employees would respond negatively.

The survey found that in addition to having difficult feedback conversations in general, many managers struggle with:

  • Being vulnerable;
  • Crediting others for good ideas;
  • Delivering the "company line;"
  • Giving clear directions;
  • Recognizing achievements; and
  • Speaking face-to-face.

Solomon argues that failing to provide feedback, whether good or bad, only hurts employees. And if the feedback is negative, it's all the more important to let employees know.

"The dark side of sugarcoating and avoiding honest feedback is dysfunction and disconnection, which leads to an unproductive team," she says.

Solomon offers the following suggestions for engaging in difficult conversations about performance with employees:

  • Avoid personal attacks;
  • Be an active listener;
  • Be direct, not hostile;
  • Be encouraging; and
  • Be engaged (Solomon, Harvard Business Review, 3/9).

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