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How to Give Negative Feedback


No one likes negative feedback — either receiving it, or giving it. In fact, we might hate giving constructive criticism more than getting it; leadership development researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that while 92 percent of respondents to a survey valued corrective feedback, most managers felt uncomfortable giving it. Comfort levels aside, it’s obviously unlikely for performance to spontaneously improve, without direction from leaders. So what can you do, as a manager, to offer negative feedback that leads to positive results?

Darth Vader

(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr )

1. Make sure your intentions are good.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

If you’ve been in the work world for a while, you’ve probably received negative feedback before. Perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s not all created equally. Sometimes, criticism is constructive, and therefore valuable; other times, well, it’s hard not to think that you’re dealing with an emotional issue of the boss’s, not a real area you need to work on.

When it’s your turn to dish out the criticism, focus on being constructive. Now is not the time to vent your frustrations. Now is the time to help your report see where he fell short of the goal, and hopefully help them get where they need to be.

2. Rely on data.

Start with your report’s stated goals for the quarter or year and see where they fell short. Focus your efforts finding concrete steps that he can take to remedy the problem.

What if the problem is less about performance, and more about attitude? There, you’ll need to tread with care. The first step is to be sure that the problem isn’t one of perception informed by bias: for example, women are much more likely to be warned against being abrasive.

If your rock star really does insist on behaving like one, metaphorical trashed hotel rooms and all, you can’t afford to ignore it, but you can structure your conversation to promote a more positive outcome. Be calm, back up your statements with facts, and be frank about your concerns. And then…

3. Keep your ears open.

“Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance,” writes Randy Conley at Leading With Trust. “Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.”

Tell Us What You Think

Have you learned how to deliver constructive criticism? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Amy JarnaginWally Hauck, PhD Recent comment authors
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Amy Jarnagin
Amy Jarnagin

There are some outstanding points in this article. Identifying and articulating your intentions are an effective first step in determining if you should even offer the feedback. My concern is around how we frame such feedback through saying it is constructive criticism or negative. If the deliverer or the receiver use those words, it is easy to translate the message negatively and have negative emotions about it. Why isn’t re-directive feedback framed as positive feedback? It is positive! There are… Read more »

Wally Hauck, PhD
Wally Hauck, PhD

I appreciate these blogs that attempt to keep things simple and make them sound so doable. With all respect giving feedback requires a safe context. It is up to the leadership to create the safe context otherwise they will be dealing with the unintended consequences of broken relationships. You failed to mention the context.

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