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Getting Employees to Hear What You’re Saying

Updated: May 17, 2021

Have you ever given feedback to an employee that you thought went really well, and then you heard through the grapevine your employee commented that you are micromanaging? What you intend to say and what the listener hears are not always the same. Add in the listener's confirmation bias - the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs - and no wonder messages get jumbled.

When feedback is given, the employee often thinks of it as a threat. The employee’s heart rate speeds up and they stop thinking clearly. This makes them less capable of fully absorbing and applying what you are saying.

Here are some tips to make sure your employees hear your feedback correctly:

1. Make the Listener Feel Safe - Explain that the feedback you are giving is because you want her to succeed and you care about her. Make sure an ulterior motive isn’t coming through - you’re annoyed, you’re judging, you’re impatient.

2. Give Lots of Positive Feedback - Recognizing what is going well is more likely to change behavior than just pointing out mistakes. Say things like, “Hey, I thought that email was well-written and just the right length. Keep up the good work!” This will reinforce the behavior you want to see without being intimidating.

3. Approach with Curiosity - When providing redirection, approach the conversation with curiosity and a sincere desire to understand your employee’s viewpoint. After you give the feedback, check in with “Does this resonate with you? Why or why not?” This gives the employee a chance to reflect on what they just heard and ask more questions.

Don’t leave the conversation without knowing where your employee stands. “Okay, let’s make sure we are on the same page; what are your takeaways and next steps?” Then follow up with a written email, so they can always look back to it. Give feedback in one-on-ones and day-to-day. The more they hear it and from more sources, the more likely the right message with get through and stick.

Want more? Check out Julie Zhuo’s book The Making of a Manager to help keep you on the right track as a new manager.


Learn more about our keynote, workshops and team building sessions by emailing Margie Adams at or go to

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