Use These 9 Tips When Giving Negative Feedback

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A manager’s motivation for giving negative feedback to an employee should be to encourage change — to help the employee grow, get better results, or stop doing something that is holding back success.

While there are obviously differences in people’s receptiveness to corrective feedback, in general, “people believe constructive criticism is essential to their career development,” according to an article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman for Harvard Business Review. They cite research showing that employees want corrective feedback over positive feedback by a three-to-one margin.

In a blog post on giving feedback to top sales performers on, Peri Shawn agrees. “Most people like to receive accolades … but there’s a place where positive feedback can be unproductive.  When trying a new approach, salespeople usually appreciate and desire positive feedback. But once team members develop a level of skill or mastery in a particular area … they want to know what they did that didn’t work and figure out how to do it even better next time.”

Much like a parent redirecting a child, the best time to deliver negative feedback is closest to the time of the behavior you’d like to change.  Accumulating items for an annual review that’s six months away is wasting time and risking a repeat.

How can you best deliver corrective feedback?

  1. When appropriate, ask permission. “Can I give you some feedback?” (Obviously, this doesn’t work in a situation where you’re correcting bad behavior, e.g., someone’s ducking out of work early every day.)
  2. Be clear and direct when stating the behavior you’ve observed. Don’t follow the feedback with comments that soften what you said. Don’t say more than is necessary. And don’t give the problem more weight than it deserves.
  3. Ask a couple questions to find out why the behavior is happening. There may be a good reason — not an excuse, but an underlying cause.
  4. Stick to actual behavior rather than attitudes. You have no idea what someone is thinking or feeling. So address what you see, not what you presume.
  5. Don’t bookend your criticism with compliments. Praise should be a separate conversation.
  6. Make all positive and negative feedback part of a regular routine. This helps make it expected behavior from you, rather than a dreaded encounter.
  7. Own the feedback. Even if you’re delivering feedback related to a company policy or procedure, use sentences that start with “I.” If an employee sees that you aren’t fully committed, he or she can easily rationalize ignoring the feedback.
  8. Don’t discuss pay and promotions in conjunction with negative feedback (as with yearly evaluations).
  9. Be specific about what you want done and why. What will future behavior look like?

Everyone wants feedback. Yes, it’s easier for managers to deliver praise and recognition, but employees need and appreciate well-delivered, well-timed corrective feedback.

Two related paid webinars from NST:

The Supervisors’ Guide to Giving On-Target Directions, Helpful Feedback & Constructive Criticism           

Setting Clear Goals & Performance Expectations for Employees       

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.