Few people love delivering negative feedback, but it’s necessary if teams are to grow and thrive.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to give a coworker or direct report some constructive criticism, never fear. You don’t have to choose between being a supportive colleague and a productive teammate.
With a little preparation and care, you can get your message across without sending your coworker into a tailspin.
1. Demonstrate that it isn’t a big deal
Your approach matters a great deal when you deliver negative feedback to a colleague. The emotions and behaviors you model will likely be reflected in your coworker’s response. Cultivate an easy and casual attitude about the situation and you’ll inspire the same in your colleague.
But, if you come off as uncharacteristically serious, negative or frustrated, they’ll likely respond in kind. So, keep it light. Talk about the issue in an honest and sincere way, and be sure to be direct and thorough — but don’t drive the point too hard.
2. Be sparing
The bottom line is that it’s difficult to hear negative feedback. So, don’t give it lightly. Don’t pile up a lot of negative feedback and then offer it all at once.
In fact, don’t deliver negative feedback at all unless it’s important. These conversations are difficult for everyone. So be sparing about the critiques you offer, and make them count. These kinds of difficult conversations should be very unusual.
3. Avoid false praise
Have you ever received professional negative feedback that was tucked inside a bunch of compliments? Maybe your manager told you something you did really well at a big meeting and then told you “something you need to work on.”
It can be a pretty transparent approach. So, don’t offer false praise just to cushion the blow. This will just prolong the conversation and it’s unlikely to help much anyway. Instead, save your pointed praise for the days following the conversation. This is a good time to sincerely acknowledge improvements and positive contributions.
Don’t offer false praise just to cushion the blow. This will just prolong the conversation.
4. Do remind them of their tremendous value
People see right through false or forced praise. But, they can also sense when someone is being genuine and sincere. It might be a good idea to remind your coworker of their tremendous importance within the organization, in a way that is organic and natural and completely honest, before you talk about negative stuff.
Research presented by Harvard Business Review found that people have a much easier time receiving negative feedback when they are also reminded of their value within an organization. This makes it easier to hear what isn’t working. Just be sure you’re being genuine.
5. Offer support
Frame the conversation as supportive — because it is. Yes, you have something difficult you need to talk about. But, you’re here to offer your support.
After you’ve explained the problem, talk about how you’d like to help. Give a few different options if you can. This should help your colleague to process the negative feedback and move forward. Everyone needs a little help once in a while. Chances are, the kindness you show here will come back to you.
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