How to Make Negative Feedback a Positive Thing
Someone said something to you that transformed the way you saw yourself. It felt like a punch in the gut.
It challenged assumptions you held about yourself. It confronted disappointing performance you hadn’t noticed or acknowledged.
Some prefer terms like corrective, constructive, or redirecting to negative feedback. It’s called negative because it points out something bad, ineffective, and disappointing. Typically, it stings.
It’s not negative feedback until the person receiving it knows and acknowledges they’re doing something poorly.
4 reasons to give corrective feedback:
- Gaps between positive intention and impact. Lack of self-awareness results in unintended barriers, friction, and/or setbacks. Self awareness enables leaders to create the positive impact they intend.
- Wrong assumptions about self and others. You must see who you are today before you become the leader you aspire to be tomorrow.
- Weakness where you they thought they had strength. Pointing out blind spots is like shining a bright light into someone’s eyes.
- Below standard performance. Negative feedback pops the bubble of perceived excellence.
Feedback ignites growth when dedicated people see themselves in unexpected light.
Make negative feedback a positive thing:
- Clarify commitments to personal growth. Negative feedback offends those who aren’t committed to their own development. High aspiration people get energized when you point out behaviors that don’t serve them well and you explore ways they might reach higher.
- Commit yourself to the best interest of the person hearing it. Negative feedback only works when it’s filled with positive intent.
- Clarify that negative feedback speaks to untapped potential. It does no good to criticize worms for not flying.
- Establish and maintain positive relational equity. You need at least three positive interactions for every negative exchange to enjoy positive relational equity. Give more positive feedback than negative.
How might leaders make negative feedback a positive thing?
It really comes down something as simple as the old saying: “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying”!
When we sincerely care about someone and their development we will convey that in our tone, actions and our sincerity towards that person. No one really likes to hear about areas we need to improve however if we are open to those suggestions/insight we can experience personal growth on levels which we never thought we could achieve.
Thanks Christopher. We need a little more encouragement to sincerely care. There’s plenty of technical training for managers and leaders. Maybe we need a college course…”Courage to Care.”
I was once given a S**T sandwich (two goods things with bad news in the middle … the S**T). Well my ‘bad news’ was that I was a lousy leader. That stung. At the time, I was a young leader and I was trying to become a good leader but I made mistakes. A few days later that same manager gave had herself demoted into my position to save her own A$$ from being fired. I was devastated … but eventually I examined how I was leading in that organization. I had made mistakes but no more or less than anybody else. What I discovered in that in that quintessential toxic work environment, is that I was a young emerging servant leader. When you are surrounded by negative leadership styles, servant leadership can be quite the irritant to those who lead. So rather than give up my dream in helping others through positive leadership, I decided to improve my leadership style whether I sucked or not. The first thing I did was to start reading this blog … Leadership Freak. Lots of good advice Dan! Thanks 🙂
Thanks Michael. You remind me that the feedback sandwich is full of baloney. Also, when a person is new, they should receive more positive feedback. The experienced handle negative feedback much better and get more out of it. I think I need to write about this tomorrow.
I like to talk to someone about how they can do things differently – not better – just differently. I find people are receptive to learning what they can do another way when they don’t feel judged, blamed or shamed – criticism is hard for us to hear, while having another perspective provided seems to be more easily received. I also find getting curious with another, asking them their reasons for showing up a certain way, how this strategy supports their leadership etc. informs me about what they are thinking and can fit nicely with doing things a different way. They feel seen, heard and understood as well as learning about doing something a different way.
As always, a great thoughtful post Dan. Thank you.
Thanks Kathy. It great to see your insights here today. There’s a lot of value to using the right language. Ken Blanchard uses redirecting instead of negative. “Do differently” gets my mind going in positive directions.
How we interpret feedback is critical, learning the message becomes the battle.
Often times things are taken out of context/intent, that should be clarified sometimes. Constructive criticism compared to subordinate criticism, positive/negative are only as good as our effort to tame the savage beast in us.
Learn to accept the critiques of others and manage them into your own growth, sometimes the mirror may only need adjustments, not replaced.
Thanks Tim. Love where you went with this. Perhaps we need a course on how to make the most of the feedback we receive. Your focus on our responsibility as recipients is well taken.
Sure couldn’t hurt, making the most out of things for the betterment is always welcome.
We are only images of what others perceive us to be.
Back in the 1970s, Ferdinand Fournies (I think that is the spelling) wrote a book on how to confront poor performance. What we did is reframe it just a little to close with a specific commitment and the necessary followup to get the behavior to occur — once — so it could then be reinforced.
The key was to get the person to see that their current behavior was something they needed to fix, and for THEM to come up with some possibilities and considered alternatives. Once you got to that point, THEY owned the problem and THEY would probably do something differently if you followed up after a short, reasonable length of time.
But the key was their ownership of the problem and their commitment to do things differently, followed by the timely reinforcement. From a behaviorism standpoint, the approach was really solid. (Oh, and changing the nature of the feedback and measurement system was often a critical factor in maintaining the improvement. That is a really common problem.
The reality is that people WANT to do a good job but change is difficult and recognition of improvement is often lacking.
Thanks Dr. Scott. One advantage of writing short posts is all the great stuff that gets added. I’m so glad you brought “ownership” to the table. I wonder if inspiring ownership means that the person giving feedback needs to adopt a kind approach. You don’t want to cause someone to put up barriers.
If the feedbacker wants the feedbackee to be more productive and stay out of category of Saboteur, then kindness is a key. The framework of Fournies is that people may not change their behavior unless they see their current behavior as a problem for them,
In fact, there were three or four ways we presented this, finally reaching the last which was, “NOW, do you see why this is a problem for us and why your behavior needs to change?” — with a positive response, we moved QUICKLY to, “Great. So what are some of the things you might try to do differently?” and engaging them to generate a list of possibilities, THEIR LIST SO THEY OWNED IT. Then, a commitment to change and followup.
Great post! I liked how you articulated the negative feedback and it’s importance. Negative feedback offends those who are not committed to their own personal development!! Great quote
Thanks Claude. I need to go put that on twitter. 🙂
When I read the title of this post, I thought it was from a receiver’s POV, not from the giver’s POV. I also would have liked to have known from a receiver’s POV as I’m new to my leadership role and I did recently receive some negative feedback in the way I’m leading my team.
Thanks Dee. There must be at least three dimensions to feedback. General principles. How to give it. How to receive it.
I know it stings when you receive negative feedback. After all, who would intentionally do a bad job?
You might find this article useful for receiving feedback: http://bit.ly/HMqq38
The receiver’s personal history most certainly plays a HUGE role in how information is received and processed. Some people have such impenetrable barriers that nothing will penetrate, probably caused by a hypercritical parent or something along those lines. Others are welcoming and open for feedback that will improve them in some way. Broad range.
But the KEY to feedback is that it become SELF-feedback. Put systems and processes into play so that the performer can evaluate their own performance and relative successes rather than having someone else have to do that job.
In 2013, I put up a blog around this: http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2013/07/29/feedback-and-performance-and-management-techniques/
— and it includes a checklist of possibilities and anchor points to consider
FEW people in few organizations have good performance feedback systems in place. AND it is something done pretty easily, as simple as a checkbox.
I can’t lie. I don’t like negative feedback. I do like feedback, though! 🙂
Thanks Dianna. Negative feedback can sting. Best for the journey.
Embrace your mistakes (i.e., negative feedback) for they are the life blood of your learning.
Thanks Jim. One thing is sure, we learn more from mistakes than we do from success.
In my book Leadership In Doubt I share the story of how, when I was the director of a call center here in Austin, my boss told me during my mid-year review that our office seemed “rudderless,” that I was setting no over-arching direction for my team. That was hard feedback to hear, but because it was spoken in love, and intended to spur action rather than beat me up, we were able to immediately begin making plans to improve the situation. It’s easy to say “I value constructive criticism,” which sounds very enlightened and open-minded, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to hear it in the moment. What made the situation bearable is the way that my boss approached the conversation. She was solution-focused, and she cared enough to be as honest as was necessary. It would have been easier for her to downplay her concerns, which ultimately would have hurt both of us.
Thanks Doubt. Powerful illustration. She was solution-focused and cared enough to be honest. More of us need to see that kind candor is an expression of caring.
This post is timely! I’m the team lead for a very small group of caregivers for special needs clients, and I have to address the lack of commitment one person has to the agency’s standards, such as not wearing his uniform or name tag, using his cell phone on duty and giving some backtalk to the client’s mother when she asks why he didn’t put her son’s jacket on to go out. We have two elephants in the room: he is male and I am female, and he has a cultural/ethnic bias against taking orders or corrections from a woman. Your post will be helpful to me so I can give him feedback. Wish me well!
Thanks Williams. I wish you well! It’s seldom easy to give feedback to someone with a stick neck. I’ve learned the value of clear, firm comments, not mean, just firm.
Great post. I think this is something that all of us should see and understand in a more positive sense. I also think that a negative feedback only becomes and remains to be one if we take it in a negative way. But if we are positive enough and have confidence in ourselves to take it at heart, learn from it, and turn it into something more useful, we’ll never have to worry about hearing a negative feedback.
Thanks Wellington. I think that taking feedback in a positive way is greatly impacted by the culture. When everyone – including top bras – invites feedback so they can get better, the process is more positive.
Negative feedback is …negative. If I have something positive to say I will make a …positive comment. In the case of this article, I am making negative feedback and by that I mean …negative. E.g. this article sucks, it is basically a waste of time. Thank you!
Roses. I smell roses. Some people are allergic. I also like peanuts and hate okra, but some people love okra and hate peanuts. Personally, I like Dan’s thinking and I ALWAYS try to get SOMETHING positive from anything.
You might, though I am simply guessing at this, like my new website, teambuilding.sucks (seriously) since we are focused on what is wrong with a lot of team building programs (with some alternatives for consideration).
May the force be with you…