Merge's Blog

Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback

The thumb down icon. Rejected and no, negative symbol. FlatIf you’re in a position of formal leadership, then it’s your job to offer feedback, both positive and negative, to your staff. The positive feedback is easy – it’s the thank you’s, the pats of the back, the kudos to the team. But offering negative feedback isn’t so simple, often because many leaders don’t know how, don’t have the time, or both. Yet it’s your job to deliver your message in a way that is constructive, heard and acted upon. So can you effect positive behavior change, rather than create anger and resentment? Sure you can, and in the past I’ve often blogged about it (see Giving negative feedback: focus on facts instead of opinions for one example. But today, I thought I’d summarize five must-do’s that every leader should know about giving negative feedback.

  1. Be specific. You have to give your employee information that will allow a change in behavior. “You’re disorganized” doesn’t tell your employee what he needs to change in order to fix the problem. But “I have noticed that you are unable to find the files I need when I ask for them” is specific, and tells him what he needs to do in order to create a positive outcome.
  2. Be problem-focused rather than person-focused. Concentrate on the WHAT and HOW, but not on the WHY. “Stan you’re always late” focuses on the person, and will likely result in a litany of excuses as to why he’s late. But keeping the conversation problem-focused by saying “Stan, your tardiness means that other employees can’t take their breaks on time” is much more likely have a positive outcome. Remember, your objective is to help, not to hurt.
  3. Be timely. My personal rule is within 48 hours of the event having occurred, or alternatively, you finding out about the event. If you want your feedback to be effective, it must be timely.
  4. Offer the alternative. Always make it clear what you want the person to do instead of the status quo. And stay future-focused. Instead of “you’ve been late every day this week”, say “what are we going to do to prevent you from being late in the future?”
  5. And finally, check for understanding. It’s your job to ensure that your employee has understood your message and the alternate behavior you would like instead. The easiest way to do this – ask for his or her support. “Will that work for you?” “Can I count on you to do this in the future?” “Does that make sense?” And then wait for an answer! Feedback is not one-way, it is a dialogue, which means that there has to be an opportunity for the other person to speak and respond.

Your thoughts? Do you have any more must-do’s to add to the list? Please share.

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