Negative Feedback – Can They Handle It?
Last week I was talking with a friend who works for a large investment bank. He said, “I don’t believe in the premise of your book. There is no place for negative feedback in the workplace. It’s just not possible.” And I’m seeing firsthand how hard it is for people to receive negative feedback. All kinds of people – sensitive people and less sensitive people, Type A and laid back types. No one wants to hear she made a mistake, could have done something better, or any other type of negative feedback. It’s just too hard.
This is a massive conflict for me. At Candid Culture, we teach people how to give and receive feedback and yet, here I am wondering if it’s even possible.
We need to be able to tell people what they can do better. And the truth, is, while people may not want to hear negative feedback, most people do want to know what they can do to improve their performance and get ahead, hence the quandary. Give negative feedback and evoke others’ defensiveness or say nothing and put up with whatever isn’t working? I, of course, would prefer that you give the feedback, believing that it empowers people to make better personal and professional choices. The question is how?
Here are six steps to make giving negative feedback possible:
- Set the expectation at the onset of working relationships that you will give and receive balanced (positive and negative) feedback regularly. If you’ve worked with people for years and have not set this expectation, it’s not too late. Simply say, “I realized we don’t give each other a lot of feedback. In the spirit of continuous improvement, I’d like to implement a weekly debrief during which we talk about what’s working and not working. We’ll give each other feedback during the meetings.”
- Assess candidate’s openness to feedback when you interview, and don’t hire people who don’t accept negative feedback. We do practical interviews at Candid Culture. We give candidates a chance to do some of the work they’ll be doing on the job and tell candidates what they can do to improve, during the interview. Then we see how they accept our feedback. We also ask interview questions that help elucidate whether or not candidates are open to feedback and we ask candidates’ references how well the person accepts negative feedback.
- Observe performance regularly and provide balanced feedback from the start. Don’t wait until a problem occurs or until you have time to give feedback. Begin the practice of meeting weekly to review and discuss work, setting the precedent that this is the way you do business.
- Provide positive feedback regularly so people know the good stuff and aren’t solely focused on the negative feedback they receive.
- Ask for and be open to feedback. When you demonstrate being open to feedback, you earn the right to give feedback.
- Lastly, don’t underestimate how hard it is to hear negative feedback. When some people receive negative feedback, they begin to question themselves, their skills, and their value. So tread lightly. Pick your battles. Address only what you really need to and say things gingerly, remembering that you’re talking to a sensitive person, no matter how tough he may seem.
Tags: employee feedback, giving feedback, negative feedback, receiving feedback
We all know how powerful words can be, and I’ve found that carefully choosing the words I use, makes giving feedback a bit easier for the giver and more palatable for the receiver.
For example, just the words “negative” feedback sets an uncomfortable tone in any conversation. As mentioned in the blog – who wants to know anything negative about themselves. As trainers and organization development practitioners, we focus on using positive wording. Saying – “areas of development, developmental feedback, etc.” (whatever works in your organization) helps to better set the expectation of what type of information you’ll be sharing. And…isn’t the goal to help people develop better skills and change behaviors–not just tell them the negative?
I also try not to say “constructive feedback” because when someone hears the word “constructive” – they immediately think “criticism.” (Those two words just always seem to go together. Also…what does it say when you call your direct reports “subordinates?’ It means you see them as “under you” or less than; and you may not mean it that way – but that may be the perception you’re giving out.
At our agency, we’re trying to encourage a culture of teamwork, collaboration, and cross-functional/whole organization thinking. We believe that the change begins with how we think – creating the words being used, because thoughts become behaviors and actions.
Hi Catherine, Thanks so much for your comment and for reading the blog. I completely agree. We need to chose our words very carefully. Words have meaning and impact people. I hope things are going well in Houston!