But where and when you give it is just as important as your feedback itself. For one thing, the setting can influence how the person perceives it (think: Your direct report feeling embarrassed in front of their co-workers) and receives it (think: Your direct report not hearing you because they’re distracted). For another, some feedback is ultimately better directed in an intimate conversation—and some feedback is best not mentioned at all.
Here’s how to know which category yours falls into:
It Should Be One-on-One if It’s Constructive
Most constructive feedback is best given in a one-on-one meeting—because, like I said above, saying it in front of a group can make someone feel put on the spot. Their first reaction won’t be, “How do I improve?” but rather, “Does everyone think I’m an idiot now?”
In private, you’re more likely to get the person to really listen, ask questions, and ultimately put what you’re saying into action.
But You Should Let it Go if It’s Just Negative
However, if you’re just disappointed in or annoyed about something they did, but don’t actually have any suggestions for how they can improve in the future, it’s best not to say anything at all.
Or, if it feels petty but routine (such as using “lol” too much in emails), reframe your feedback so that it’s actually helpful and constructive. Remember: If you can’t come up a reason it’s bothering you besides it’s annoying, drop it.
It Should Be One-on-One if You Really Want to Emphasize a Success
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with complimenting your employees in front of the whole team. But if the person really did a kick-ass job, it can go a long way to bring it up again and make sure the person knows you really meant it.
But You Should Let it Go if It’s Clearly Intended to Make the Rest of Your Team Feel Bad
If you’re bragging about an employee to use as leverage to encourage better performance, that’s not the best tactic for motivating your team. Instead, stop avoiding the elephant in the room and give the low performer constructive feedback.
It Should Be One-on-One if It’s a Consistent Mistake
Anything that happens more than once should be addressed—even if it’s a silly error. But for the reasons above, it’s best to do this one-on-one.
You Should Let it Go if It’s a One-Time Error
Maybe your normally stellar employee slipped up on something or dropped the ball on a deadline. If it’s truly a one-time thing, you probably don’t need to bring it up—you’ll only make them feel bad for no reason.
Giving feedback as the boss carries so much weight—which is why it’s key to think about how you’re doing it. Evaluate the situation before blurting your suggestions out, and if it doesn’t seem like something you need to address right away, take it to a quieter setting and decided whether it’s worth saying at all.
Photo of boss about to talk courtesy of alvarez/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author