Whether it’s to a direct report, a manager, or a peer, there’s never an easy way to provide negative feedback. Some of us worry too much about hurt feelings, so we sugarcoat the truth. Some of us just tell it like it is with no empathy, resulting in hurt feelings. And then there are those of us who skip giving constructive feedback altogether—and nothing changes. Not knowing how to give negative feedback is a problem, and so is avoiding it. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 92% of respondents agreed that “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” To grow and improve, all team members should be given the opportunity to be told what they can do better and how to be better. To be comfortable providing useful feedback, personnel must learn that “negative” assessments don’t always have to be awkward.
Growth-minded companies that value constructive criticism should consider making feedback training a regular part of their learning program. How to give feedback, when to give feedback, and the qualities of good feedback are all priceless tools needed to achieve success at any level. Blue Ocean Brain offers a highly effective training series to help leaders and their teams become feedback pros. Some of the concepts and practical advice they will encounter in the series are included below.
How to give negative feedback to employees
In many organizations, managers meet with team members annually to review their performance and discuss future goals. But when it comes to giving negative feedback, it’s not necessary to wait until then. In fact, it’s not fair to provide employees with just one opportunity to improve each year.
Growth-minded companies have begun switching from a performance management culture to a feedback culture. Instead of focusing on accountability for the past year and emphasizing financial reward and punishment, they support continual development and focus on improving current performance. Having regular conversations allows leaders to voice concerns as they arise, and helps employees progress year-round.
In a feedback culture, giving constructive feedback is part of a regular routine. Perhaps it’s a consistent, Friday morning check-in to discuss how things are going. Managers can go through the same checklist every week to cover positive and negative performance, asking themselves questions such as:
- What skills or behaviors am I happy with, and what improvements do I want to see?
- What positive and negative impacts have my employee’s actions had on our company or team?
- What changes do I want to see, and within how much time do I expect to see them?
- How can these improvements help the company as a whole?
- How can these improvements help my employee become better in their career?
During discussions, managers can take the awkwardness out of the air by remaining positive and open-minded. Following these tips can help:
Admit to your own mistakes
During discussions, make sure the employee knows you’re on their side, and that you want them to succeed. It often helps when giving negative feedback to be empathetic and to acknowledge your imperfections. Share a relatable story from your career to prove that everyone can learn from their struggles.
Ask for feedback
Remember that this is a conversation, not an attack. Employees should have a chance to respond. While they may seem defensive at first, it’s a good thing to hear their side of the story. Perhaps they could use more training on a certain software, or need more resources for research…and those are things you can facilitate to help them do their job better.
End on a positive note, then outline the
Wrap things up the exchange by restating things the employee does well, and then come up with a timeline in which they should work on improving. Be realistic, but also emphasize the importance of necessary changes. If you’ve shown them support and given them the tools to succeed, they should be ready to receive kudos at your next feedback meeting.
How to give negative feedback to
Criticizing a peer can cause tension, but co-workers should be able to bounce ideas off of each other without leading to an argument. When giving feedback to a colleague, it’s important to keep discussions conversational and non-threatening—and to make it clear that you intend to help.
Schedule a discussion
Instead of catching them off-guard at their desk, ask if they’d like to get coffee. Let them know you’d like to discuss yesterday’s meeting or that you want to address how a current project is going. This way, they can have some thoughts ready by the time of the scheduled meeting.
Have a collaborative conversation
No one wants to be told what to do by a peer. Instead of being condescending or recommending changes they should make, ask how you can help the situation improve. As teammates, perhaps the two of you can come up with a solution to make things work better for everyone.
Focus on the problem, not the person
Placing blame can lead to a defensive response. It’s always best to start peer conversations with “You have some great ideas…” to let them know you aren’t pointing out their inadequacies. Stay on the topic of the particular project, and suggest that perhaps more brainstorming could help formulate even better ideas.
How to give negative feedback to managers
Everyone in an organization has room for improvement. In fact, leaders should want to know how they can better help their teams succeed. According to a recent Gallup poll, teams with managers who received feedback about their strengths showed 12.5% greater productivity than teams with managers who received no feedback. In a study of organizations ranging from retail stores to large manufacturing facilities, units with managers who received feedback showed 8.9% greater profitability than those who didn’t.
As intimidating as it is to approach someone in charge, employees should not be fearful of retaliation or feel like they are complaining by sharing thoughts with leaders. Instead, they should keep in mind that managers value the chance to improve themselves. And if presented in the right way, there’s a good chance that giving constructive feedback could actually strengthen their relationship with the leadership team.
Timing is everything
For constructive feedback to hit home, it has to be given soon after a particular problem. Eliminate any confusion by stating what you want to discuss and why you want to discuss it. For instance, if a manager said something in a meeting that frustrated you, ask your manager if they can fit you in sometime today to discuss it further.
Know what problem you want solved
Staying focused on the issue will prevent your boss from getting overwhelmed, and can prevent you from going off on a tangent. Be prepared with specific questions you want answered regarding how a certain issue is impacting you or your team. Whether you simply want to clear up confusion or make a suggestion for improvement, staying focused will help the conversation flow more easily.
Even though your boss is your boss, receiving negative feedback from you might be intimidating. Maintaining a respectful tone will keep him from feeling attacked. Stick to the basics in your discussion: Thank him for seeing you, explain why you’re there and what you’d like to see change (and why), and mention ways that his actions have impacted the issue.
Ask for feedback
Asking a simple “What are your thoughts or feelings on this?” will let your manager know you value his perspective. Whether he responds with questions or offers suggestions, you’ve set the tone for an open conversation—and hopefully a chance to solve the problem.
Help your teams get better at giving and receiving feedback
Negative feedback is an essential element of high-performing teams, but few people are naturally good at giving it. For a feedback session to work, both the giver and the receiver need to show diplomacy, empathy, psychological safety, and self-awareness—complex skills that don't come easily for everyone. To help your teams learn these valuable skills, schedule a discussion with a learning specialist at Blue Ocean Brain.