How to Give Feedback as a New Manager: Be Clear, Be Compassionate

Transitioning into leadership is probably for many people, the biggest transition of their career. When you’re used to being a worker bee with your head down, spending your whole day talking to people and helping them get their work done can feel hard. You may think, “When am I going to get to do my work?” You may feel you’re not “doing” anything.

Recently I interviewed Ramona Shaw, leadership expert, host of The Manager Track podcast, and author of The Competent and Confident New Manager. Ramona works with companies helping them train up new leadership, but learning how to lead didn’t come easy for her. In this article I’ll share Ramona’s journey, plus what she has learned about how to give feedback — something new leaders often struggle with.

The importance of self-awareness as a new leader

Ramona remembers the struggle when she started her first leadership position. “I didn’t have enough support, but also I didn’t think I was aware that I needed support. My personal awareness was not there. I sort of ran into this — or not ran, but stepped into this position thinking I will figure this out. I thought, I’ll make mistakes but I will be okay. I’ll figure this out. But there was way too much, too much that I didn’t know. I was definitely not a born natural leader. I’ve really had to learn the hard way.” It was when she finally reached out for help that she started to enjoy leading people.

“I was definitely not a born natural leader. I’ve really had to learn the hard way.” — Ramona Shaw

How to Give Feedback

Shift your mindset

“I think one of the biggest shifts was to realize that I am not here to create or try to form a team of people who all work the same way as I do. I am here to leverage individual strengths and really appreciate the differences that we have.”

“I am here to leverage individual strengths and really appreciate the differences that we have.” — Ramona Shaw

“The shift went from focusing on me as a leader — “how am I doing” — to we/them — “how can we get this done”. Shifting focus away from yourself and your performance is liberating because it shifts your mindset to come from a place of service.

Focusing on the goal of the group (we/us) is the same guidance I give my clients when I’m coaching them on presentation skills. It’s not about you; it’s about how you can help others grow. Take the spotlight off yourself, shift your mindset to helping others, and watch yourself come alive.

How to give feedback so your people can grow

Giving feedback can be one of the hardest things for a new manager. In my work coaching professionals in communication skills, I’ve noticed this can be especially hard for women in new leadership roles. It was hard for Ramona at first too. But she’s learned over time how to approach it, and how to do it better.

How to Give Feedback

She says, “It’s like telling someone they have spinach in their teeth. Giving feedback is awkward, but I’m not going to NOT say it because it makes me feel awkward. That’s very me focused. Instead, I’m going say it because if I were in their shoes, I would want someone to say it. It’s my responsibility as a manager to give feedback and to point out the development areas to strengthen.”

“It’s my responsibility as a manager to give feedback and to point out the development areas to strengthen.” — Ramona Shaw

Of course, we don’t want the receiver of the feedback to feel bad, which is why we need to exercise compassion, says Shaw. “The way to go about giving feedback is to be as clear as possible, and then be compassionate with their response. If we try to control their emotional reaction to the feedback, we start to be unclear, wishy-washy, and sugarcoating.”

For the women in my coaching cohorts, sugarcoating is one of the hardest habits to break. They end up adding a ton of linguistic padding around their feedback because they don’t want it to land hard. But the problem with this is that the listener can get confused: they have to search for your message. You have to be willing to give candid feedback so people can grow without using hedging words or indirect language. So how do you do this?

Be as clear as possible, and be compassionate with their response

According to Shaw, how you deliver feedback depends on the relationship that’s already there. “If this is a long lasting relationship, and there’s a lot of trust and safety already in place, you need less of the leading in and intention setting. If it’s somewhat of a new relationship — maybe this is a new employee and this is the first time that you’re bringing up something that you might have noticed, then you don’t know yet how they’re going to react.”

If this is the case you can lead in with a simple statement like, “Hey, I want to bring something to your attention that I have noticed. I’m sharing this with you because I think it’s important for me to communicate things that I see may be getting in your way.” Or “I want to share this with you because I want you to learn from this opportunity and so that the next time around, you have the information you need to really grow and expand in your role.”

Say what you notice, then ask a question

Don’t start with praise. The feedback sandwich comes off as manipulative. Say what you notice, then ask a question. “Feedback should never be a one-way monologue,” says Shaw. “It should be a conversation where I share what I notice, and then I ask a question, like ‘What was going on for you?’ or ‘How do you see it?’ or ‘How did you experience this?’” She adds, “You have to help them uncover what was going on, and you have to learn what may be the root cause of what you’ve observed.”

Then after you’ve figured out the cause, you can go into more questions. For example, “Now that we’ve talked about this, what do you think you want to do differently going forward? What are you learning? What are you taking away from this conversation?”

It’s natural to want to give advice and guidance, but we can overdo it. Shaw continues, “At the end of the day, we are still looking for the other person to make a behavioral change, and therefore the reasons and the path of doing that need to come from within.”

What’s true is that in today’s work environment, being told how we need to change our behavior is not the way people want to be led anymore. As someone new to a leadership role, you have to let your people know you’ve got their back and that you’re here to help them grow.

Watch the full interview with Ramona Shaw here.

What’s your biggest communication struggle as a new leader? To overcome the inevitable challenges in leadership, a coach can be an invaluable tool.

If you’re curious, get on my calendar with a free Leadership Confidence call today.

Ready for more from Rebecca Williams? Download this free Language of Leadership PDF that will help you identify weak language habits to avoid and what to say instead. Watch her free video, Confident Nonverbal Communication for Women. Follow her on Instagram. Get on her calendar to see if the next Art of Communication women’s group coaching cohort is the right fit for you.