How to Give Negative Feedback without Sounding like a Jackass

imagesYesterday I posted how to receive negative feedback without totally freaking out, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I hate giving negative feedback, because, let’s face it, it isn’t easy. No one wants to come off sounding like a ruthless bastard, but at the same time, we want to make sure we get our point across. I figure if I’m feeling this way there are probably loads of others out there feeling the same way. So here you go! I hope this helps. If you have something to add, please let me know!

  1. ASK the recipient. Yes, you read that correctly. When there is something you’d like to tell another person first ASK if you can give them some feedback. This applies more so to friends and family than it does to employees. This does several things, obviously it gives the person an opportunity to say no, but it also gives the person a chance to mentally switch gears. If they say yes to your request they are now mentally prepared to hear what you have to say and they will likely be more willing to receive the feedback. If the person says no, you must be willing to say okay and move on. What’s the point in wasting your time and energy on something a person doesn’t want to hear? More often than not, a person will say yes.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one receiving feedback, what would you want to know? How would you want to be treated? Would you want it to be in front of others, or would you prefer it to be done privately?
  3.  Start off positive. Compliments start things off on the right foot and usually make people more prone to open up and listen to your feedback. But please don’t use the management sandwich, it tends to take away from the meat of your conversation (pun intended) and leave the receiver of feedback confused.
  4. Be specific. The more specific you are the better. Look at these two sentences, which one helps you fully understand the situation at hand? This white paper you’ve been working on really sucks, it’s so confusing! Or I’m having a difficult time following your line of thinking in Section II, can you expand on…?
  5. Uncover the root of the problem. You’ll give better feedback if you understand how the other person views the situation. Asking questions about their thought process, not only provides you with some perspective, but it can lead people to realize their own solutions and insights. If that does not happen, you have at the very least created an environment for open dialogue.
  6. LISTEN and respond accordingly. Some people will have a lot of questions they want answered. It’s your job to make sure you listen to those questions and answer them appropriately. Similarly, it is your job to listen to what the person is saying when they are answering YOUR questions.
  7. Don’t stockpile negative feedback. Try to give feedback in real-time or as soon as possible to avoid the stockpile. Changes in behavior are more easily achieved when negative feedback is administered in small doses. When managers stockpile problems, waiting for the right moment, employees can easily become overwhelmed.
  8. Don’t email negative feedback. People who have a hard time confronting others are often tempted to use email as a tool for negative feedback. Don’t. You can’t tell a person’s tone in an email so it’s easily misinterpreted. You could have meant something to come off as playful or joking, but to the reader it can come off as just plain mean.
  9. Define next steps. Agree on what is appropriate for the employee. If there are specific things the employee needs to start doing or needs to stop doing, be sure they are clearly identified. If there is something you need to do, perhaps additional training for the employee, agree on that as well.
  10. Get over it. Once it’s all over and a resolution has been agreed upon, move on. Don’t hover over them out of fear that they may make another mistake. Monitor their performance as you do all employees, but don’t obsess.
This entry was posted in Change Management, Employee Development, Human Resources, Leadership, Organizational Development and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How to Give Negative Feedback without Sounding like a Jackass

  1. Joseph says:

    These comments offers excellent insights in ways to improve interpersonal and employer/employee relationships. Obviously they take practice and time to implement. No better time than now to start!

  2. j says:

    Gotta remember number 10.

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