Behind the Bar

The Right (And Wrong) Ways to Give Feedback

A man talking to a woman behind a bar.
Giving effective feedback is key to a happy team. Photo via iStock/Steve Debenport.

You’ve worked your way up to a managerial position... Now what? Sure, you’ve got the cocktail chops and customer service experience to make you a leading example for the rest of the team, but what about the sticky, behind-the-bar stuff like maintaining authority without micromanaging, or offering constructive criticism without squashing someone’s creativity? We spoke to a couple leadership experts to help you navigate those sometimes murky waters.

Harnessing and rechanneling creativity

When a team member is bubbling with ideas — both good and bad — harnessing that creativity is your ultimate goal.

“Start by creating a safe space where everyone feels they’re heard — really heard — and their opinions matter,” says Sofia Santiago, a communication and leadership coach, speaker, and co-author of "Difficult Conversations." “When someone contributes say, ‘Thanks!’ Never say ‘Nah! That won’t work.’”

Santiago says that even if someone offers an idea that won’t work, or provides a wrong answer, you should still respond with something that’s reassuring and validating. For example, “Close!” or “I thought the same,” or “That’s a super creative idea, why don’t we approach it from this angle?” Do this with an authentic smile and a non-intimidating tone of voice.

“Afterwards, provide feedback — whether you implemented their ideas or not,” says Santiago. “Explain why and thank them again for their contribution. Don’t just assume they know. Send a clear message that you embrace creativity.”

If you find that your team is lacking in ideas — or that they’re simply shy in presenting ideas — try giving an assignment. The task could be coming up with a solution to an ongoing problem, developing a new item to add to the cocktail menu, or brainstorming an idea for a special event.

Give them enough time to marinate and then have each person present their idea to the group during a meeting.

This method prevents “groupthink,” says Santiago, which is when everyone simply agrees with each other and settles on an idea that’s “good enough” because it requires less effort to say, “yep, I agree,” than to think of an alternative.

“Studies show that by giving them the topics beforehand and telling them everyone will be expected to contribute something new, you not only kill groupthink, but you also make it public that yours is a culture of creativity,” explains Santiago.

Now, this all may feel a little unnatural, or even cheesy, at first. Fight through it, though. Stay true to your vision (you were put in charge, after all), be genuine when giving feedback, and follow the golden rule of never slamming someone’s creativity.

Maintaining authority without looming

Nobody wants a boss who manages too much, and nobody wants a boss who doesn’t manage at all. Striking that Goldilocks balance, however, requires a conscious effort and may take you some time. Start by implementing assignments or tasks paired with hard deadlines. For example, maybe it’s the exercise outlined above, or maybe it’s basic tasks like fulfilling orders, doing food and drink prep, or cleaning up after close.

What you do in between the assignments and deadlines is what defines your management style. Constant reminders aren’t necessary, and hovering while a task is being completed is a waste of your time and will only annoy or induce anxiety for staff.

Do follow up, and do address the issue if an employee doesn’t comply or repeatedly does a subpar job. If you’re dealing with an ongoing problem, a more direct, one-on-one approach may be necessary.

“Ask to meet with the employee, then begin the discourse with stating what they do well,” says career specialist Linda Kuriloff. She’s also the author of "The Charm of Confrontation."

Providing a list of strengths helps your employee feel valued and cushions the criticism that will follow. It also shows the employee that you see the good and the bad, and that you’re not just there to nitpick and wave your figurative authority stick.

From there, you can address the issue head on. Kuriloff says to “give them a timeline of how long they’ll have to change their level of work” before giving another warning or releasing the employee of his or her duties.

“Once you’ve executed the confrontation, don’t loom,” says Kuriloff. “Typically, when someone believes in us – believes that we can incorporate new information and change – we want to prove them right for having faith in us.”

In other words: you need to give your employees the space to prove themselves. Check in from time to time, yes, but avoid hovering.

At the end of the shift, the most effective type of authority is one that’s earned.

“There is a huge difference between a ‘boss’ and a ‘leader,’” says Santiago. “A boss manages processes; a leader influences people. You want to be a leader in the good as well as in the bad times.”

She adds that when you have earned people’s trust and respect by being consistent and sincere — by walking the walk, and by showing your team that you do have their best interests, and the bar’s best interests, at heart — your employees will follow you willingly. Even if they don’t (and they won’t) always agree with you.

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. From Tel Aviv to Miami, from Prague to NYC, she enjoys sipping on well-crafted cocktails in all corners of the world.

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