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Posts Tagged ‘giving negative feedback’

How to Respond to Negative Feedback

The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.

When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.

Every person you know – personally and professionally – wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your organization who you think are lazy, want you to think highly of them. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).

It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.

Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.

Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves, or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.

Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:

1.  Ask for feedback.

2.  Be specific about the type of feedback you want.

3.  Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.

  • A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
  • A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new-hire-orientation program. Will you call into the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting feedback.

4. When you receive feedback, say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”

5.  Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.

6.  If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what they said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation. That can be minutes or a few days later.

7. You can express a counterpoint of view, just don’t do it immediately after receiving feedback. Anything you say in the moment will likely sound defensive.

No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what people are expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.

Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self-control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen relationships, and get more information than you have in the past – information you need to manage your career, reputation, and business.


Giving Feedback – Less is More

People leave feedback training armed with new skills and they unfortunately sometimes use those skills as a weapon. It goes something like this, “I need to have a candid conversation with you.” And then the person proceeds to dump, dump, dump. This couldn’t be more wrong, wrong, wrong.

When you give someone negative feedback you are essentially telling the person they did something wrong. And who likes to be wrong? The ego gets bruised, and people often start to question themselves. This normal reaction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback, you just need to do it judiciously.

Ask yourself these four questions when deciding whether or not to give someone feedback:

  • Do I have the relationship to provide feedback? Does the recipient trust me and my motives?
  • Do I have permission to give feedback? If the recipient doesn’t work for you, you need permission to give feedback.
  • Is this something the person can do something about? If it’s not a change the recipient can make, keep your thoughts to yourself.
  • Is the feedback helpful? Ultimately the purpose of all feedback is to be helpful.

Let’s say you’re on the receiving end of too much feedback. What should you do?  It’s ok to say “no thank you” to feedback. Here’s what you could say:

“Thank you for taking the time to bring this to my attention. I really appreciate it. You’ve given me a lot of feedback today. I’d like something to focus on that I can impact right now. What’s the most important thing I should do?” You’ve validated the other person and demonstrated openness and interest. You’ve also set some boundaries and expectations of what you will and won’t do.

“Thank you for taking the time to share your requests about… We won’t be making any changes to that and here’s why.” It’s ok not to act on all feedback, simply tell people why you won’t.

“I appreciate your concern. I’m not looking for feedback on that right now.” Can you say that to someone? Yes. Should you? Sometimes. To your boss – no. To someone who offers unsolicited advice that’s outside of their lane, yes. They’ll get the message.

People can only act on and digest small amounts of feedback at a time. Be judicious and assess your motives. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful, when the feedback is requested, and when you have the relationship to give it.

If you receive too much feedback or unsolicited feedback, it’s ok to decline. You’re not the 7-11, aka you’re not always open.


Give Feedback Privately and Quietly – Let People Save Face

The purpose of feedback isn’t to teach people a lesson, it’s to elicit certain behavior.

Below are six strategies for giving helpful and succinct upgrade feedback:

  1. Write down your message. Save it as a draft. Re-read it later, when you’re not emotional, then cut the words in half. Shorter is better.
  2. Remove emotion. Examples are helpful, emotion is not.  Emotion: You embarrassed me. Example: You raised your voice at me in front of others.
  3. Remove judgments. Vague words are judgmental. Judgment: Your behavior was unacceptable. Specific: You rolled your eyes at a coworker.
  4. When you can deliver your message in about a minute, without emotion or judgment, you’re ready to speak.
  5. Deliver all upgrade feedback in a private setting, behind a closed door.
  6. Then, let it go. When the conversation is over, it’s over. Don’t stay angry or remind the person of the situation. If the behavior is repeated, discuss it then.

Say only what you need to. Deliver messages privately. Protect the ego, which is fragile. Let people save face.


Why Employees Don’t Do What They Need to Do – Improve Employee Performance

How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t they ___________ ?” Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why they won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, they still haven’t done what you asked them to do.

employee performance

There are four reasons why people don’t do what you ask them to do:

  1. They don’t know how.
  2. They don’t think they know how.
  3. They can’t.
  4. They don’t want to.

Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know-how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, they will be able to do what you’re asking.

Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let them make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will likely be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why they continue to ask questions and repeatedly check in, but never make a decision independently.

If you work with someone who doesn’t think they know what to do, but you know they have the answer, encourage them to trust themself. When they come to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust their judgment and encourage risk-taking. Tell them you’ll support their decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage them to make a decision next time without consulting you. Then keep your word. If they make a wrong call, you have to have their back and can’t invoke negative consequences.

Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear-cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for, will never do that responsibility well, regardless of how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly and effectively, coached, trained, and provided support and the person still can’t do what is being asked, remove that responsibility and give the person something they can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.

Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent them to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.

Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that they aren’t meeting expectations and most people don’t want to tell you. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what they need to do will create behavior change. They will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.

The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what needs to do be done. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So, get out of your head, leave your office or laptop, and go talk to the person not doing the work.

Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:

“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason they aren’t doing what they need to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get what you want.


Say No to the Empathy Sandwich – Giving Effective Feedback

No one likes giving people negative feedback. Giving negative feedback often makes both the feedback deliverer and the recipient feel badly. To make everyone feel better, we dress negative feedback up with pickles and relish, otherwise known as The Empathy Sandwich.

The Empathy Sandwich in action: “You’re doing really great. Now you did almost cost the company $50,000, but in general, things are going great.”

The Empathy Sandwich leaves people unclear, wondering if there is a problem. Instead of softening negative feedback with positive platitudes on both ends, tell people you’ll be providing positive and negative feedback as things happen, and then separate both types of feedback.

Here’s how you can set the expectation that you’ll be providing balanced feedback:

Giving feedback to people you manage: “As your manager, my job is to help you be successful. As a result, I’ll tell you what I see, as I see it. I’ll give you both positive and upgrade (negative) feedback in a timely way. Because if I don’t, you won’t grow as a result of working with me.”

Paving the way to give feedback to peers and those at a higher level: “We see each other work and are in a unique position to provide each other with feedback. If you see me do something positive or not so positive, I’d like to know. I promise I’ll be receptive.”

Delivering feedback and avoiding The Empathy Sandwich:  When you give feedback, separate the positive from the negative. You could say something like, “I want to talk about a few things today. Here are some things that are going well… Now, I also have something to talk with you about that is not going as well… After you deliver the negative feedback, say something like, “I know there is a tendency to dwell on negative feedback. I want to remind you of the positive things we talked about today.”

People can handle negative feedback. They won’t quit if you’re honest about their performance. They will likely become defensive and get upset for a time. That’s ok! Your job when giving feedback is to be clear, timely, and specific. Prepare and practice your delivery out loud. Ensure you have the relationship to deliver the feedback. Don’t worry so much about the response.


How to Give Feedback – Worried You Might Not Say It Right?

Many people worry about giving feedback because they fear they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.

Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.

When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives, you can say almost nothing.

how to give feedback

Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.

Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.

How’s how to give feedback you’re apprehensive about:

How to give feedback example one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about, but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”

How to give feedback example two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”

How to give feedback example three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something, but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”

Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.

You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be real.


Give Real Feedback or Say Nothing

Most ‘feedback’ sounds like this:

  • You’re awesome.
  • Good job.
  • Nicely done.
  • You’re cutting corners.
  • You have a bad attitude.
  • You’re not committed.
  • You’re careless.
  • You’re disengaged.

I’m not sure why, I wish I could give you a good reason, but the vague phrases above are what come out of people’s mouth’s first when giving feedback. To prevent giving fake feedback, you have to prepare.

There is a reason you think the person is awesome or has a bad attitude. What did they do that created that impression? Until you can describe what the person did to create an impression, you’re not ready to give feedback. You’re better off saying nothing.

All of the phrases above are opinions with no facts. Opinions are judgments. Feeling judged makes people defensive. When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen.

The purpose of feedback is to help another person. Give the person enough information that they know what to replicate and what to change. Before you give feedback, write down three things the person did that created your impression. If you can’t give an example, wait to have the conversation until you can. It’s better to say nothing than to say something vague and unhelpful.

Vague positive feedback sounds inauthentic. Vague negative feedback is judgmental. Neither strengthens your relationship or are helpful.

If you really want to be heard and you want to be helpful, provide an example. No example, no feedback.


Get Help When Giving Feedback

Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.

What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.

If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.

When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.

Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.

When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.

The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.


Defensive Behavior – Expect It vs. Avoid It

Most of us avoid giving negative feedback because we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.

Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.

Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:

  1. Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
  2. Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
  3. Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
  4. When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
  5. Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.

What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:

Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”

Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, I promise you that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay here.”

Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else has given me positive feedback.”

Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________.  Please do that.”

Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”

Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”

Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”

Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”

The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.

Defensive Behavior


Giving Peer Feedback – Follow These Four Steps

Many of us are hesitant to give peer feedback. We worry that giving peer feedback will damage our relationships. We wonder if we have the right and if it’s our place to give peer feedback. And we are concerned about what the consequences of giving peer feedback will be.

Giving peer feedback isn’t so different from giving feedback to a friend or even a direct report. While you have an implicit ‘right’ to give a direct report feedback, doing so without building trust will ensure your feedback falls flat.

People respond to feedback in predictable ways. Most people get upset and defend themselves. This is normal and natural. Negative feedback conflicts with our desire to be thought well of, which all people (despite what they might say) want. People are more open and less defensive when they trust the source of the feedback and trust the sources’ motives. Follow these practices when giving peer feedback and your feedback will hopefully be well received.

Four practices for giving peer feedback:

  1. Think about why you want to give feedback. Really think about this. Is your desire to help the person change a behavior, or are you just being judgmental? If your intention isn’t to help someone replicate or change a behavior, say nothing. It’s not feedback you’re planning to give, it’s only your opinion you want to disseminate. One of my friends recently told me she felt my son’s name was waspy. Her comment wasn’t feedback as there was nothing I could do with the information. She simply gave me her judgmental opinion, which annoyed me.

Also, consider why you want to give feedback. Do you simply want something done your way, or do you feel strongly that what the person is doing is having a negative impact on him/her or the organization? I worked with a business leader who red-lined every document his staff created. He didn’t only change language that was wrong, he edited documents so they were written more akin to his writing style. This made his staff feel that they couldn’t do anything right and it wouldn’t matter what they produced, he’d revise even the most ‘perfect’ work. So they stopped trying. Evaluate your true motive. Just because something wasn’t done your way, doesn’t mean it wasn’t done well.

  1. Provided your motives are pure – you’re trying to make a difference for someone and his/her behavior is causing real challenges, it’s ok to speak up. Be sure you have the relationship to give peer feedback. Does the person know you have his/her back? If you speak up, will s/he trust it’s because you care about her or the organization, versus you just want to express your opinion and be right.
  2. Provided you are giving feedback to alter a behavior and you have the relationship to give feedback, it’s important that you ask for permission. A peer relationship is a lateral one. You each have the same ‘power’ (at least by title) in the organization, thus you don’t intrinsically have the ‘right’ to give feedback. You earn the right to give feedback by asking for permission and being willing to hear, “No, thank you.”

Asking for permission to give feedback might sound something like, “I’ve noticed a few things that I think are making ________ project harder than it has to be. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?”

Or, “Our weekly team meetings are tough. It’s a challenging group. I have a couple of ideas that might make the meetings easier to run. Would you be interested in talking about them?”

Or, “I have something I want to share with you. I feel awkward bringing this up because we’re peers and I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. But I care about you and want you to be successful. Would it be ok if I shared? Feel free, of course, to say no.”

  1. Lastly, don’t worry about giving peer feedback perfectly. You might follow our feedback formula to a tee. You might not. There is no one right way to give feedback. Speak from the heart. If you’re nervous to have a conversation, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to give a piece of feedback, say so. If you’re worried you won’t deliver the feedback well, say that. Saying how you really feel, being human and vulnerable builds trust, relationships, and credibility. People want to work with other real people, and real people have concerns. It’s ok to share them.

Giving peer feedback doesn’t have to be hard. Evaluate your motives. Ensure that what you plan to share is really feedback versus merely your opinion. Build trust, ask for permission, and speak from the heart. If you make a mess, you can always clean it up. Simply repeat the steps by saying something like, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I hope it’s ok I said something. I really want this project to go well for both you and the team. How could I have done that better for next time?”

peer feedback

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