Don’t Drop An F-Bomb On Your Employees

It happens everywhere. No industry is immune. Whether you work in private business, education, big business, healthcare, or even a church, you’ve heard it before. Chances are, you’ve even dropped it on someone else. When you hear it, you cringe. It makes you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. You can feel your heart begin to race, and your mind begins to shut out everything else happening around you.

The f-bomb I’m describing is not what you think. This f-bomb is all too common and leaves those who hear it feeling stunned, confused and frustrated. It’s the feedback bomb. Perhaps you’ll recognize it once you hear what it sounds like. Although it comes in many forms, there are some basic themes in every feedback bomb situation. Feedback bombs are fraught with insecurity, poorly planned delivery and lack of self-awareness by the leader who is delivering it. The receiver is often caught off guard and put on the defensive based merely upon the choice of words by the person who is delivering it to them. Sometimes, the feedback bomb is dropped in front of other people, and often it takes place too long after the situation that initiated its need in the first place.

Although nearly every leader understands the importance of truthful and timely feedback, most aren’t doing it effectively. According to a survey conducted by Anna Carroll, MSSW, the author of The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success, almost half of all leaders avoid feedback and over 80% don’t do it the right way. Less than 5 percent are giving helpful feedback on a regular basis.

In theory, providing helpful feedback sounds fairly simple. Yet, research has showed us that leaders are missing the mark and failing miserably when it comes to their intended outcome of helping to improve the performance of their employees. By it’s very nature, feedback conversations involve a lot of uncertainty and emotion. The person giving feedback can never be sure of how the other person will react which can trigger a defensive reaction if they sense the receiver isn’t grasping what they are trying to convey. Giving feedback requires a step out onto the employee/manager relationship risk plank, which is why many leaders avoid having these conversations altogether. Or, worse yet, they have the conversations but do it in a way that is attacking or full of blame in an attempt to protect themselves from an employee who may not accept what they have to say.

The best way to prevent future feedback bombs is to understand the psychology behind what goes wrong. The most crucial ingredient of feedback done right is trust. Sadly, many organizations believe feedback is best handled through a rigid performance review process that usually leads to a “check the box” conversation that demotivates employees to perform and deepens the trust gap between employees and their manager. The feedback being offered is less about meaningfully helping the employee to develop, and more about going through a process to suit the needs of the manager and organization.

Another psychological component behind a feedback bomb has to do with the person giving the feedback. If the receiver doesn’t view them as qualified or trusted enough to offer it, then they will immediately tune out or assume ill intent. The best feedback conversations take place only after a manager has consistently demonstrated the desire and effort to form a meaningful relationship with their employee. Every employee has a sharply tuned “BS” meter that will be triggered if they sense that what you have to say is only being initiated by the fact you hold a more senior position in the organization. Bottom line, your employee will only trust you enough to let you in, if they feel you are qualified and have their best interest at heart.

A great example of a typical feedback rookie mistake made by ill-informed managers everywhere is when feedback is given in a sandwich approach. In other words, the leader starts the conversation with a positive, followed by an area needing improvement, and finished with another positive.

This triggers confusion in your employee, and comes across incredibly inauthentic and rehearsed, which further widens the trust gap between you and your employee.

So, what should you do to prevent dropping another feedback bomb on an unsuspecting employee? The formula is simpler than you might expect. It starts long before the feedback is needed with the building of a trusting relationship based upon a foundation of your genuine desire to nurture and know each employee you manage. Only then will everything else fall into place.

Feedback must be given often and with a pure heart. It should not be reserved for corporately mandated performance review conversations. You should go into each conversation prepared with a clear understanding of your intended outcome and where you’d like the conversation to lead. Engage with them directly in a two-way conversation where you do equal part listening to talking. Perhaps the best news of all, is that each time you have a positive feedback experience with your employee, your employee’s brain will take note and remain more open to trusting in what you have to say the next time.

May you have a workweek full of building trust and absent of feedback monstrosities.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at