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Posts Tagged ‘How to Respond to Negative Feedback’

Give Employee Feedback Better and Be Heard

The normal, natural reaction to negative feedbemployee feedbackack is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.

Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.

Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.

While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.

Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.

Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.

Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.

Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.

Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.

Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.

Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.

Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.

Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.

Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.

You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.

employee feedback


Give Employee Feedback Better and Be Heard

employee feedbackThe normal, natural reaction to negative feedback is to become defensive, a response I’ve recently labeled as The Freak Out.

Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.

Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.

While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.

Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.

Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.

Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.

Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.

Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.

Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.

Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.

Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.

Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.

Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.

You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.

employee feedback


How to Respond to Negative Feedback

The normal, human response to negative feedback is to become defensive. Becoming defensive is a survival instinct, like hitting your breaks when the car in front of you stops short. It’s almost unavoidable.

The challenge with becoming defensive is that the person who risked telling you the truth (as she sees it) doesn’t want to deal with your defensiveness. Your defensiveness is . . . scary, intimidating, annoying – fill in the blank.

So what’s the right answer?

Here’s my recommendation on how to respond to negative feedback:

When someone gives you feedback, listen. Listening doesn’t mean you do what the other person wants. Listening merely means take in the message. Hear what the other person has to say. And ask questions for greater understanding, if you can do so without being defensive. In my experience, asking questions, in the moment, without being defensive is VERY hard to do.

I got critiqued for admitting, in last week’s blog, that I broke one of my own rules by sending feedback via email. I study, teach and write about how to communicate well. And I’m human. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me. But when they do, I clean it up fast.

The last time I got feedback from a friend I got defensive. And during the conversation, right after I became defensive, I caught myself, apologized, and asked the person to tell me again. I said, “I’m sorry I got defensive. Tell me again and I’ll do a better job of listening.”

You won’t always communicate perfectly. It’s not possible. The key is to catch yourself quickly and clean up the messes you make. If you raise your voice, apologize. If you cry, remove yourself from the situation until you can speak calmly. If you push back and defend versus listen, own your behavior and do a better job of listening. You’ll earn respect by admitting when you fall short.

It’s easy to mistake listening to feedback and saying “Thank you for telling me that” as agreement. I’m not suggesting you agree or give in. When you’re calm and can interpret the feedback, without emotion, go back to the person to talk more. It’s ok to push back. It’s ok to say you disagree or that she is mistaken. But if you have this conversation when you receive the feedback, the other person will likely be so daunted by your reaction that she is not likely to give you feedback again, and that’s a loss for you.

So few people will risk being honest with you, make it easy on those who do.

A few weeks ago one of my friends asked for feedback on how he communicated. When I told him what I thought he responded with, “So, you’re telling me I did it all wrong.” Aka, he got defensive, so I back peddled. In that moment my brain got trained, this guy can’t take feedback. So the next time he asks me, I won’t give any.

It doesn’t take much to train people not to tell you the truth. One instance of defensiveness will do it. Don’t do that to yourself. You need the data. You don’t need to agree with what the person says or change your behavior, but you need to know what people think and say about your performance.

Let’s review how to respond to negative feedback:

  1. Ask for feedback.
  2. Listen.
  3. Don’t defend.
  4. Think about what the person said.
  5. Wait until you’re calm.
  6. When you can ask questions and discuss without being defensive, talk further.

Now that you know how to respond to negative feedback, use our Advancing Career Questions to get more feedback:


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