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How Good Leaders Give Negative Feedback
Any seasoned manager or leader of any kind will tell you that one of the trickiest and most unpleasant parts of the job is giving negative feedback to a team member. Very often, it is a process dreaded by manager and employee simultaneously but the importance of handling the process is vital. The way you, as a team leader, deliver negative feedback can alter the performance of your team members and the work environment as a whole.
Providing someone with negative feedback, or constructive criticism is essentially the process of providing them with an observation on a problematic behaviour or action that they are engaging in in the hope of helping them improve on them for their own growth as well as for the benefit of the team or company as a whole.
Why is negative feedback important
If like many people, you’re not a fan of conflict, it’s easy to fall into the trap of postponing giving your team members negative feedback or even avoiding it altogether. While this might save you and your work-mates a difficult conversation, the long-term effects of letting undesirable actions and behaviours slide could be highly problematic.
Like it or not, providing negative feedback is a big part of your job as a manager or team leader. It helps you correct mistakes and reduces the chance of their repetition. It’s also a way to maintain harmony amongst your employees in situations where one person’s actions are affecting their colleagues in a negative way.
Most importantly, it is important to understand that, by giving your employees negative feedback, you are actually supporting their professional growth and development.
How to approach giving negative feedback
One of your employees is doing something that is not going down well with the rest of the team or the quality of their work has taken a nose dive lately or they have made a mistake and you need to ensure that any repetition of this is avoided. Here are a few steps to help you approach the process of tackling the situation by providing negative feedback in a manner that benefits you, the team, the company and the employee themselves:
1. Be prepared
First of all, it’s important not to rush into the process of giving someone negative feedback. This is particularly important if you, as a manager, are angry or annoyed by the action or behaviour in question. Stop, take a breath, organise your thoughts and prepare your feedback.
Write all of these down and prepare a few talking points you’d like to use to facilitate the conversation. Be sure to link your conversation and your feedback to your goals as a company and as individuals.
2. Have a conversation
Giving feedback shouldn’t be a monologue but a productive two-way conversation in which both parties learn a bit more about each other and, ultimately grow. It’s a good idea to start your feedback session by asking questions such as:
“How are you finding your work at the moment?”
“Is there anything that’s bothering you or causing you any difficulty?”
This gives you the opportunity to gauge whether or not they’re aware of the problem or if they stem from something deeper. Once you’ve understood the roots of the problem, it’s good to ask follow up questions like:
“Have you had these issues before? How did you deal with them?”
Once you’ve provided the feedback and discussed the issues, you should approach the solutions together:
“How do you think we can solve the issue?”
“Where do you think we should go from here?”
3. Avoid personal attacks
It’s important to understand that providing negative feedback is not a commentary on the person’s character. Your job as a manager in this situation is to highlight problematic actions or behaviours and not to change who people are. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to fall into this trap and how you can avoid it by taking the time to think about how to phrase your observations beforehand.
According to Marcus Buckingham, giving feedback is not about truth but about perception. Your observations are subjective and not fact. Keeping this in mind will help you avoid making sweeping statements like “you’re too slow” or “you’re being difficult to work with”. Instead, you should approach the feedback by starting your sentences with openers like “I feel like…” or “It seems to me that…”.
“I noticed that you haven’t managed to keep to deadlines lately. Are there any difficulties you’re facing that you’d like to talk about?”
“It seems like your relationship with some of your team members has changed over the past few weeks. I’d like to hear why you feel this is.”
4. Be genuine
There’s no point in trying to hide the negative feedback by coating it in positive comments or half-hearted compliments. By doing this, you can come across as being deceptive (people will see through you) and you run the risk of missing the whole point of the exercise. Of course, it’s great to include the positives of someone’s work and behaviour but only use it to get to the heart of the situation.
So avoid sentences like: “You’re normally a great employee and you’re very hardworking but you haven’t been the same over the past few weeks.” Instead, you can use concrete examples from the past to show what sort of behaviour you think works:
“I thought the way you managed your time between those two projects you were working on last December was effective and produced great results. I think it might be good to revisit that period and adopt a similar approach. What do you think?”
5. Be solution-focused
Stopping at the problematic behaviour or action won’t get you very far. Keep in mind that the purpose of negative feedback is growth and evolution. Once you’ve identified the problem, highlight its implications to ensure that you’re on the same page. Once this happens, you can agree on the best ways to resolve the issue and move forward.
Why the approach matters
Giving negative feedback in the right way is a crucial skill any manager or leader needs to hone to create and maintain a healthy and productive climate in the workspace (be it physical or virtual). Going about giving negative feedback in the wrong way can:
- Create a toxic work environment
- Demotivate your employees
- Makes employees think twice before taking initiative
- Make employees avoid asking for your input or advice
- Give you the reputation of a leader who only points out problems
On the other hand, approaching negative feedback in the right way creates can yield the opposite results. Learning how to provide useful, and valuable feedback creates an atmosphere that’s more open, productive and encouraging. Your employees will be more engaged and motivated in their work and will feel like they have the space to be creative and innovative. Finally, you will be the sort of manager whose team members feel comfortable to turn to for advice and guidance in times of difficulty.