The #1 Ingredient Needed for Constructive Employee Feedback

Giving employee feedback can be difficult for managers, especially those who dislike conflict. Nonetheless, employees need both positive and constructive feedback to grow personally and professionally.

The issue is that most managers don’t know to provide developmental employee feedback, or even realize the most important ingredient before delivering constructive criticism. Without this ingredient, these conversations can fall flat and leave employees feeling unappreciated and just like a number.

What is the most important ingredient in delivering effective constructive employee feedback?

The #1 ingredient to rocking any constructive employee feedback conversation is, (drum roll, please!): Sincere relationship-building.

If a manager has not taken the time to build relationships with those they lead first, they will fail at delivering employee feedback. What do I mean when I refer to “sincere relationship-building” with employees?

  • Take time to understand what your people are going through inside and outside of work, by sitting with them one-on-one
  • Be there to uplift them when they miss a goal and when they accomplish something they set their sights on
  • Be on the lookout for ways to grow and leverage their strengths
  • Help them to see that their perceived obstacles are just opportunities to be more and better than yesterday
  • Be their biggest advocate

When managers focus on sincere relationship building with their employees, they set themselves up for success when it is time to deliver constructive criticism on a project, process or interaction. Managers are human. Employees are longing for their managers’ receptivity to connecting in the ways I described above.

When a manager resolves to show up in these ways, any piece of constructive feedback feels just like one more way that they care for those they lead. It doesn’t feel like a negative, but like they are moving one step closer to embracing their team members for all they bring to the table and for all they will become.


Heather Younger
Heather Younger
Heather Younger gets it. As a best-selling author, international TEDx speaker, podcast host, facilitator, and Forbes Coaches Council coach, she has earned her reputation as “The Employee Whisperer”. Her experiences as a CEO, entrepreneur, manager, attorney, writer, coach, listener, speaker, collaborator and mother all lend themselves to a laser-focused clarity into what makes employees of organizations and companies – large and small - tick. Heather has facilitated more than 150 workshops, reaching +100 employers and their employees. Her motivation and philosophy have reached more than 20,000 attendees at her speaking engagements on large and small stages. Companies have charted their future course based on her leading more than 100 focus groups. In addition, she has helped companies see double-digit employee engagement score increases through the implementation of her laws and philosophies. She has driven results in a multitude of industries, including banking, oil & gas, construction, energy, and federal and local government. Heather brings a tenacious and inspirational outlook to issues plaguing the workforces of today. Her book “The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty” hit the Forbes Must-Read list and is a go-to source for HR professionals seeking insight into their organization's dynamics. Heather’s writing can also be found on her blog at EmployeFanatix, as well as articles in Forbes, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, American Express Open Forum, and more. Coupled with her Leadership with Heart podcast, weekly videos, and employer newsletters, Heather stays connected to organizations long after she leaves the stage or conference roomWhen all the emails are returned and the mic is turned off, and Heather acts as co-manager of her busy household in Aurora, Colorado with her husband, where they oversee their four children.

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  1. Hi, Heather.
    When I work with folks about customer service and feedback, I make the case that what’s important about both is not transactions but relationships.
    Feedback, especially, needs our attention and care. If we can accept that more often than not, performance issues tie to cluelessness more often than capacity or ill intent, feedback is the way out. Yet if we don’t promote trust and courage, relationships don’t have the resilience to give and receive feedback candidly.
    Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Great stuff Heather! We need to work at this regularly. One of the things that I really try to avoid is having the heavy “conversation in my office.” Now I don’t have shackles or bright lights in my office, but for some people being called to an office can be intimidating. I try to have most of my conversations with people in their work space, where the dicsussion can be wide ranging, and sometimes it doesn’t even touch on work stuff. To me, it’s more about knowing them and building trust, which can only happen when you have a relationship. When it does become necessary, at times, to have the more difficult conversations, you can work it in to your discussion in a much less threatening or intimidating way, because you have invested time in them and your relationship before this, and they will be much more likely to be receptive to whatever you are trying to communicate.

    See you next week!

  3. Heather – I completely agree with everything in your post. But now, you have to write about the team member who refuses to see your efforts at trying to help them grow at unrealistic or mean or just wrong and refuses to change. There is the challenge.

    • I will think on that, but I have not had that issue, but maybe once, when I was hired into a job and the other person who ow reported to me was not happy. When I went the route I discussed, she already was jaded and didn’t want to take it in. I could not change her mind. I had to focus on my response to her.

  4. Heather, such great insight – thank you! I couldn’t agree more that sincere relationship building is the key to constructive employee feedback, and it is something that I do my best to employ anytime I am managing a team. We are humans, first – with many dimensions to us. So, to understand the person and develop a relationship that says I care about you as a person and an employee, and I want to work with you to foster growth – that is one of the best motivators.

    Too often, we see a lack of relationship building, and you can see how this deficit in connection leads to poor morale and decreased productivity. Having come from a place where there was a lack of championing the employee and the mindset was to knock the employee down instead of building them up, I understand first hand the ill effects the lack of humanness can impart.

    We should always strive for mutual success – and never be afraid to show our vulnerability. It builds trust while simultaneously showing that you are human too. I’m the first to admit that I wear my heart on my sleeve, but it enables me to find that place of connection with another person. And we all need and desire it.

    Thanks for writing this piece, Heather. It is a perfect afternoon read and full of great insight.

    • Laura, thanks, love! There is so much pain at work. I feel it in so many comments and interactions. I can’t solve the problem, in aggregate, but it is my mission to help leaders understand that they must be intentional about caring, connecting and loving on their people. Everyone wins!

    • Oh, Heather. I have story for you about something that happened to me at work today. Talk about pain. I’m just bewildered at how things are handled sometimes.