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How to Give Negative Feedback

Last week I wrote about a way to help generate positive feedback for your team members.

The other side of this coin is negative feedback.  Negative feedback needs to be more specific and timelier than positive feedback.  In my experience, people are hyper sensitive to negative feedback.  Tell someone nine great things about their performance and one moderately negative thing and they always seem to focus on the one negative.

Because people are so sensitive to negative feedback it is important to be very specific about the problem.  “You need to apply yourself more”, or  “You need to improve your attitude” are useless and damaging examples of negative, unspecific feedback.  It is also important to deliver negative feedback in a very timely fashion, while the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind. One of my team drops the ball; we talk that day or as soon as we are both able.

This morning at the team meeting your behaviour was unacceptable.  No matter how much you disagree with someone, my expectation is that you will respect the person as I respect you.  When you told Kathy that she pisses you off, you crossed a line.  You shut her down, you took everyone aback and you put me in a very awkward situation.  I want you to express your opinion, but I need you to do it always with respect for the other people in the room.  Imagine how you would feel with Kathy had said that to you, or if I treated you like that in front of everyone. 

Negative Feedback is part of the checklist. Image from AJ Cann's Flickr. Click for Link.
Negative Feedback is part of the checklist. Image from AJ Cann’s Flickr. Click for Link.

Why did you feel you needed to act that way? <listen><ask questions><listen>

Here is a better way you could have handled this… 

What do you think and how do you feel now? <listen><ask questions><listen>

Ideally a discussion like this would happen right after the issue took place.  Doing this at a review three weeks later does more damage than good.  It will dilute any positive feedback and it will leave the person mad at you for leaving the issue so long. Save up a few negative issues and you make things even worse.

Negative feedback delivered in a caring supportive way is an art mastered by all great managers.

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Inclusion Blog Post

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  1. This was really good strategy to put in to practice along with so tried and true steps I use when broaching subject during yearly evaluations as well Thank you for this article …great ideas… Thank you

  2. While agree with your points, your example concerns me. A statement such as “your behaviour was unacceptable” and “you shut her down” and “you put me in an awkward position” are non-specific and judgemental in nature. I would suggest “when you told Kathy she pisses you off, I saw her face close up, and she put her arms over her chest. It appeared to me that she shut down emotionally and was then not able to hear anything else you said. I felt embarrassed when you spoke, because I am your manager, and your actions reflect on me”.
    Just my two cents,

    Susan

    • Awesomely better feedback Susan! Thank You! Your approach is less judgmental and more likely to be effective than mine.

      I know we both agree on doing it right away and being very specific.