20 Ways to Give Negative Feedback
Growth always hurts. But, stagnation is death.
Growth requires feedback.
Successful leaders are great at giving feedback.
Good intentions don’t compensate for poor execution when it comes to negative feedback. Done well, negative feedback is a gift. Done poorly, it devalues, demotivates, and discourages.
Successful feedback is turning on the lights.
Before feedback, there’s stumbling in darkness. But, clarity produces confidence after successful feedback. Confidence enables action.
20 Ways to Give Negative Feedback:
- Commit to connect with the recipient. Distance undermines positive impact. Sit on the same side of the table, for example.
- Know the career goals of recipients.
- Seek their welfare.
- Define wins clearly.
- Explain issues as behaviors that limit personal and organizational success.
- Tie negative behaviors and solutions to organizational values.
- Pursue encouragement more than correction.
- Build on strengths.
- Stick with one issue. More than one issue indicates you already failed in the past.
- Express issues in one or two sentences. The more you talk the worse it is.
- Have examples.
- Feel calm not angry.
- Speak directly and with kindness.
- Provide adequate time and privacy.
- Embrace the possibility you could be wrong.
- Avoid “but.” You’re doing a great job, BUT, is interpreted as, “I’m not doing a great job.”
- Focus on observable behaviors. Don’t interpret intentions or motivations.
- Collaborate on solutions and develop a path forward.
- Draw a line in the sand and start fresh.
- Follow-up with progress reports.
Optimism is essential when giving negative feedback.
Avoid giving feedback until you believe growth is possible. If growth isn’t possible, you’re on the path to terminate them or live with the problem.
Never ______ when giving negative feedback.
What’s the most important thing about giving negative feedback?
Looking more distinctive and unique
Sent from BlackBerry® on Airtel
I’m not sure what you mean. But, if you’re suggesting that the goal of negative feedback is helping others look more distinctive and unique, I love the idea.
Well I figure most would say I got alot to learn in this area!!!!!! Lol hey y’all might be right!!!
What I try to do is share three things, my experience, my strength and my hope.
Then I realize the cold hard truth. The response I get says more about the person hearing it than anything about me. Grown up mature stuff right there.
SP back to now
We all have a lot to learn.
Thanks Dan, you know I been thinking about this a lot today.
You know words stick in my head sometimes. Funny cause practically nothing in there!! Hehe
So in reality….negative feedback….is never my intent. Feedback is. The person or persons hearing it Then decide if it is positive or negative.
Just want that on the record so maybe after I am long gone any one cares what I thought I got it down the way I see it in black and white.
Thanks Dan How bout them Heels!!!!! Roundball and gridiron victories today!!!! Tar Heels Rock!!!
My favorite model for delivering important negative feedback is Susan Scott’s Confrontational model from “Fierce Conversations.” I especially love the ideas that nobody owns the truth, and that the “Con” in confront means together, so confronting something is standing together in front of an issue. Of course, it always starts with a pure heart, and the best of intentions form the leader. Those things present, this model makes the “hard things to hear” somewhat easier. Great post, Dan! Will share with the leaders I lead…
I think the idea that nobody owns the truth sets us free, relieves pressure, and presents the opportunity to work together. Thanks for joining in today.
Never SIGH when giving negative feedback. Try to avoid any negative body language or vocal cues. If you feel that’s hard to do then you might not be in the right mindset yet. Give it a day or two more. Negative feedback given right after the ‘work’ is less likely to be received as “thoughtful”.
I would say the most important aspect of negative feedback is to truly view it as an opportunity to help the other person and strengthen your relationship. The friends and coworkers that I had admired and remembered the most are those that helped me become a better person even if it was hard for them to do (confrontation done right is rare).
I’m thankful you added body language and vocal cues to the conversation. These items totally slipped my mind as I wrote today. But, they are important.
I especially agree with #8 about focusing on strengths. I think it’s important for leaders to let their employees know they’re doing a good job regularly, and tell them what they’re doing right more often than they tell them what they need to change.
We shouldn’t be surprised at our negative environments is all we do is focus on and talk about negative stuff. The ration to offset one negative is 3 positives.
Another great post, Dan!
I think it all rests on your goal in giving feedback- it should always be to help the other person grow.
Never assume you know the persons’s intentions- and certainly don’t assume malice or bad intentions, remain focused on addressing the behavior and its impact.
I have grown tremendously, in important ways when cherished mentors have taken the time to let me know about the unintended impact of my behavior- which helped me to be more deliberate and more successful at aligning my behavior with my intended impact.
Have a great day!
I really like your phrase “unintended impact.” We don’t intentionally shoot ourselves in the foot. And we don’t always realize the impact of our behaviors. It’s a gift when someone points it out.
most failures have at the root a communication issue, of expectations not set or misunderstood.
Establish expectations. How can we meet the expectations of a conversation if we don’t know what they are. I like to think of it as defining the win.
It’s amazing how frequently we expend energy without really knowing what the win looks like.
yes, and how poor communication early in a project
results in big misses later on
Learning how to deliver negative feedback the right way is a crucial part of learning to lead. It’s one that more leaders should absolutely focus on. Great post here!
Absolutely. Any leader who can’t deal effectively with tough issue is doomed to mediocrity.
You give good advice, Dan.
Here is the other direction for negative feedback.
Most bosses strive to give effective negative feedback, but neglect to solicit negative feedback from their workers. No executive can expect long-term success without negative feedback.
Negative feedback is the only real feedback. It motivates us to change and improve. Positive feedback makes us feel good, but it just encourages us to keep doing what we are already doing. It will not motivate us to improve.
Negative feedback only moves up the responsibility chain when it is sincerely invited and workers believe it can be delivered risk-free.
In my role as a senior executive, I made it clear to everyone that I wanted and welcomed negative feedback, and no matter how bad it was, anyone could bring it to me, risk-free.
What a great addition to this post. Feedback that flows in both directions indicates mature relationships and healthy organizations. Great add…
Thanks for extending the conversation.
Great post! Clarity does produce confidence.
Lots of good thoughts here, especially in conveying patience. No.5 jumped out at me — I work a lot with hourly freelancers, who don’t have to care about organizational successor even how their personal success relates to my company. And I get that they may be prioritizing paying the bills. But if I express how their work and role tie into the overall mission and our client relations, and they explicitly reject that reasoning (it’s happened!), it sends me a powerful signal.
At least some of these points seem geared toward in-person meetings/feedback. Perhaps you’ve written about adapting these principles for when feedback necessarily must be over the phone or over email/otherwise in writing? In the example above, I almost never meet my freelancers, as they can live nearly anywhere in the world.
What a great addition. In today’s world, the likelihood that feedback could be over the phone is increasing. I wonder if skype is a good alternative?
I get the feeling that establishing expectations up front is even more crucial in this context.
Thanks for adding a dimension that wasn’t on my radar.
So timely, Dan…. I’ve been holding off on a phone call I need to make to a business partner that I’m thinking of releasing–but just knew I needed to wait for some ‘divine intervention’… or at least your excellent tips provided here. (They may be one and the same, who knows…?) Thanks for helping me daily to consider a better way, a better viewpoint… a better me… ~John
I hadn’t thought of these posts as Divine Intervention. 😉 … Your encouragement is much appreciated. Best on the journey.
In the education world, we talk about “low inference” feedback — stating factual observations rather than passing judgment by saying that something was good or bad. There is a lot of research on children about how counterproductive it is to say things like “good job” or “bad manners”… because they don’t know what they did right or wrong, and they internalize that what is important is the approval of a parent/authority figure. People learn from understanding specific behaviors that they may not even be aware of.
One cool idea — I recently had the experience of giving someone feedback on a formal observation, and I started off asking questions rather than giving feedback. My observee highlighted almost every area I wanted to talk about without me saying a word. I also videotaped this and was able to watch myself giving feedback, and I have been reflecting on how I can improve next time!
Let me affirm your observation that people often bring up the issues we are concerned about. Sometimes a question about how they want to be or what they are trying to accomplish opens up conversations that focus on behaviors that enhance another’s success.
Sometimes they point out the same issue and offer solutions that work for them. I find that establishing simple observable behaviors propel people forward.
Great post Dan!
Taking people into confidence and offer few solutions while giving a negative feedback. However, do this in time to avoid damages at a personal or group level and allow the wrong work culture to get set in. Procrastination in conveying the required communication can be dangerous!
Thanks Dr. Asher,
I feel the tension between giving people time to correct an issue on their own and stepping in quickly to resolve matters that could have broader negative impact.
Perhaps part of the process is determining if we are making progress or we are stuck.
Generally speaking, it’s better to be proactive.
Thanks for this list, Dan! I do not think that all of the recommendations can be used in all situation, but one should keep the list in mind. It’s a facilitator.
I would like to mention your article on my blog if you don’t mind.
Thanks and please feel free to spread the word.
Wow ! Too Good
Keep up the good work and keep enlightening us. I really think a critical feedback of any work is ineluctable as it not only gives the receiver to improve upon his/her work and also keeps him thinking on his feet. i especially like the #12 to not to hurt the feelings of the receiver.
I find #12 is important because we often need anger to give us the courage to say uncomfortable things that need to be said.
Great tips Dan! I completely agree with the importance of focusing on behaviors. All too often the individual providing the feedback is operating on assumptions about the other person’s motivation and it becomes personal. Once it becomes personal, it’s very unlikely to turn out well.
Giving negative feedback is tough and many managers avoid it. As I recall one of the worst things to hear is “Do you have a minute?” That usually meant you were in for a long discussion which would ruin your day.
Teaching managers the skill to do it well is a gift to them and their employees. Your list Dan is comprehensive. Thank you. The only thing I see missing is timing. You need to select a time that works for both parties; it can’t be done when other pressing issues are at play. The giver needs to be composed the receiver receptive.
Great post. I’m going to keep this list handy!
Another thought: Be prepared for an initial negative reaction to negative feedback.
I’ve probably had time to think this through, but the other person hasn’t. Being defensive is a natural human response. Give the person time to process the information and work through their natural, initial emotional response. Don’t get defensive if the person gets defensive.
Proceed with humility. I may be the next one to get some negative feedback that I wasn’t expecting!
Interesting post! I find 3, 8, 17 and 18 to be especially useful, and even if this may be partially outside the scope of this article, I would like to suggest a couple of additions when giving someone feedback:
-Start the feedback session with clarifying that this is to help the recipient grow.
-Always, always give feedback about specific behaviors! Those can be improved.
-Whenever possible, use positive feedback instead. When people spend their time doing more good things, the will have less time to screw up.
-Give feedback often, so it doesn’t become a thing to fear.
Thanks for all your hard work!
Hmm – I resently had an open and honest talk with My boss. I was Asked by My bosses superior – who is new in the Job – to do this Even though I have talked with My boss atleast twice before without any improvement what so ever. It seems there is no way out of This! Any suggestions?
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I like this article. Sticking to one issue improves odds of success.
Keeping the tone positive and focusing on behaviors are key. The person getting feedback should feel like they’ve been helped.
Is there a typo in #7? “Purse” encouragement or “pursue” encouragement?
One of the most positive aspects of presenting negative feedback is genuinely conveying positive intentions (growth, learning, etc) through your tone and placement of words. It’s easier to receive negative feedback if you really feel/know that it is for a positive reason and in your best interest.
If I could add one thing to the first point, “Commit to connect with the recipient. Distance undermines positive impact. Sit on the same side of the table, for example.” This should, when possible, be taken quite literally. If you can meet someone in person over Skype, or the phone, to give them feedback, that will be much more effective than doing it digitally.
This is great stuff.
I also like the Ken Blanchard approach of a Positive-Negative-Positive sandwich, to lessen the demoralising effect of the negative feedback and maintain the recipient’s self-esteem. Always stood me in good stead.
I’d like to offer a different opinion here, and strongly advise against using the feedback sandwich. The reason for this is simple: if people only get positive feedback when you actually want to give them negative feedback, they will pick up on this and stop listening to the positive parts – because they understand that what you REALLY want to communicate is the negative feedback. All theoretical benefit of the sandwich approach will then be eradicated, and you have instead ended up with a way of spending three times as much time giving negative feedback than needed.
That said, be sure to outweigh negative feedback with positive feedback in the long run with at least 3 to 1, but keep it relevant instead of as a meaningless padding.
I agree with Jonas! The sandwich technique leads to simply diminishes the value of appreciative feedback. I agree with the 3:1 ratio for appreciative vs. constructive feedback. I would even say that this is the minimum ratio that is needed.
Instead of using the sandwich technique, I have often taught managers to start the conversation by “conveying positive intent” this is a statement that indicates that have something to share that will help them improve in an area that is important to them. This way you try to make it clear from the beginning that you are not trying to criticize or tear them down.