Greetings and Happy Summer!

Recently, several people have asked for training or support for supervisors on giving feedback to employees. My summer blog shares some ideas and principles that I have found to be valuable in responding when employees don’t meet expectations. While the focus is on feedback from supervisors to employees, the principles apply in other situations. Rick Bowers, Mediation Consultants, LLC, shared valuable insights and wisdom that made this article possible. Your feedback is welcome!

When Expectations Aren’t Met: Responsive Employee Feedback

If you’ve ever dreaded giving feedback to an employee who has not met an expectation, you are not alone. The case scenario below will be used to introduce an approach based on principles of transformation and Nonviolent Communication. This approach is responsive, because it enables both parties involved to respond to needs in a proactive and supportive manner.

Alex was responsible for organizing a community celebration. Staff and volunteers were expected to assist with the different tasks on the day of the event. Jayden is Alex’s supervisor. A few weeks before the event, Jayden asked Alex to develop an assignment list. On the day of the event, Jayden noticed that there was no written assignment list and that guests started to arrive before the registration table and food were set up. Jayden wanted to give Alex some feedback, but was dreading it and feared that it wouldn’t go well.

Feedback Mindset—Feedback is often viewed in an either-or, positive-negative dichotomy. If we’re not giving praise, we are giving negative feedback, which is often laced with judgment and blame. Alex’s work did not meet Jayden’s expectations, and Jayden’s mindset was that both the feedback and the process of delivering it must therefore be negative. This mindset stems from a larger culture that exists in many organizations. In this culture, feedback is often viewed as a way for dominant supervisors to assert their authority over subordinate employees and correct bad behavior. In this mindset, the supervisor is the judge and the employee is being judged. Needless to say, this approach fosters defensiveness and tends to close down communication.

Rather than acting as a judge, Jayden chose to engage Alex based on their mutual commitment to meeting goals and needs. When Jayden made a shift in mindset, Jayden began to think of feedback as an opportunity to open up communication, rather than shut it down. The chart below shows the contrast between the judgmental mindset and the responsive mindset that Jayden chose.

Judgmental Responsive
Good/Bad, Positive/Negative
Works/Doesn’t work or could work better.
Meets goals and needs/Doesn’t meet goals needs
Supervisor correcting employee Connecting based on mutual commitment to meeting goals and needs
A necessary, but unpleasant task An opportunity for connection, mutual understanding, growth and exploration


Workability—Rather than feedback consisting of judgments of good or bad, we can ask questions such as: “What worked? ” “What didn’t work?” and “What could work better?” This way of thinking brings the focus to the work and removes connotations of right and wrong.

Needs—In addition to defined goals, there are often underlying needs that people have. Universal human needs (from Nonviolent Communication) are deemed “universal” because they are needs that everyone has, such as autonomy, contribution, purpose, support, trust and understanding. When people have needs, they are not only for themselves. For example, both a supervisor and an employee may have needs for partnership, harmony and effectiveness on the team. When we are aware of our own needs and can understand the needs of others, we can then find ways to respond to those needs. When we acknowledge and communicate our needs, there’s a special type of connection that allows natural giving to occur. As a supervisor, Jayden can also acknowledge what Alex’s needs might be. For example, Alex may have a need for autonomy or flexibility.

Generosity—Another crucial element of feedback is our mindset towards our selves and others. If we harbor resentments or guilt, our feedback is more likely to be laced with blame and judgment. Self-reflection allows us to acknowledge those feelings and the needs underlying them. With practice, we can also move to a space of compassion and generosity for our selves and others.

Self-reflection on Mindset—Following is a tool that supervisors can use for self-reflection before giving feedback. This tool is designed to support supervisors in creating a mindset for responsive feedback. Here are some questions for self-reflection with examples from Jayden’s case scenario.

Questions for Self-Reflection Jayden’s Reflections
What thoughts and feelings do I have about giving feedback? I’m afraid that I will hurt Alex’s feelings and make Alex mad. I don’t want to come across over-controlling and picky. I don’t want to damage relationships. I don’t like receiving “negative” feedback, so I don’t see why Alex would like it.
What thoughts and feelings to I have about the person I am giving feedback to? Can I give feedback from a place of generosity and compassion?
Alex is a real flake and doesn’t care about being organized. I am frustrated and mad. I would probably be judgmental and blaming if I tried to give feedback.
What needs of mine are most important in this situation?
(Universal human needs or values, not specific strategies)
I have a need for trust. I also have a need for collaboration and a need for harmony.
What opportunity or gift is there in giving this feedback?
I can practice being non-judgmental, while also being direct. I can connect with and learn from Alex. I can discover Alex’s needs and strategies to meet both of our needs.
Are there any shifts I can/will make in my mindset so that I can give feedback from a place of generosity?
I can let go of judgments and appreciate Alex’s commitment and dedication to the community. I can also let go of my fears relate to myself and Alex as people who are capable of hearing, understanding and responding to feedback.

What is my intention in giving feedback?
On reflection, I see that my intention was to blame Alex and control Alex’s behavior. I now want to support Alex, mutually explore how to meet needs, and strengthen our working relationship.

Elements of Responsive Feedback

The following are some elements can be used when giving responsive feedback. These elements are the same whether they are in response expectations that were met or not met. Using this approach to feedback may not feel natural at first, because it is a shift from long standing communication patterns. Real life interactions call for flexibility in using these elements, rather than a linear, step-by-step process.

Element Jayden’s Feedback
Clarify your intent. Frame the conversation so that the employee is clear on your intention and mindset.
I’d like to give you some feedback about the planning for our event and what is important from my perspective. I’d also like to hear your perspective about how we can strengthen our teamwork and ways that I can support you in coordinating events.
State your observation of what the employee did/didn’t do. Be specific. Focus on what happened, not on your interpretation of what happened. I didn’t see any written assignments for staff or volunteers at the event. I also noticed that the food and registrations tables weren’t set up before guests started to arrive.
State why this matters. (Include the underlying needs.)
I had an expectation that you would have a plan for working with staff and volunteers. I’m concerned and have a need for trust that I can count on you to work effectively with staff and volunteers. I also have a need for collaboration and harmony among all of us.
Elicit the employee’s perspective.
Would you tell me your feelings and thoughts about what I just shared?
Connect to the employee’s needs.
What needs are important to you in this situation?
Develop Strategies. Explore ideas and make requests and/or commitments. What ideas do you have for meeting both of our needs?
Identify follow-up steps. Review what was agreed upon and make specific commitments for any next steps.
We agreed:

1) To have a conversation with staff at the next meeting about ways to work together in planning events.
2) To have a check-in meeting one week prior to each event to review the plan for staff and volunteer assignments.
3) To check in again in a month to see if there are any other needs to be addressed.

In conclusion, a responsive approach to employee feedback involves a shift from a judgmental model to one where supervisor and employee connect based on a focus on workability and universal human needs. Practicing this approach requires flexibility and willingness to stretch beyond habitual patterns of interacting. The rewards may include stronger collaboration and effectiveness, more authentic connections and greater satisfaction for all members of the team. When practiced throughout an organization, responsive feedback can help build a transformed work environment where everyone is fully valued and contributing fully.

Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed reading “Lessons from the Field.” If you find this information useful and want to share it with others for purposes of learning (not for profit), please feel free to do so. Please acknowledge Mayeno Consulting and include my web address ( if you pass it on to others. Thanks!

I invite you to e-mail me at with topics that come up in your work. As a special incentive, I will provide 3 hours of free consultation to organizations that send me topics or “Dear Laurin” letters that I use for future commentaries.