Many employees believe their bosses are jerks who don’t care about their feelings, but in most cases this simply isn’t true. The majority of business owners and CEOs care about their employees and don’t like to hurt their feelings or saddle them with frustration.
While such consideration is beneficial for most work situations, it can pose quite a challenge when the time comes to deliver negative feedback.
Why we don’t like giving negative feedback.
In principle, negative feedback has the potential to help people. In certain occupations, such as medicine or the military, negative feedback may even save a person’s life. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to deliver negative feedback effectively. All too often, they end up botching the task and causing more harm than good.
The fear of messing up or being disliked typically holds us back. According to research, an inability to deliver negative feedback is often connected to a lack of self-esteem. In other words, people tend to fear the delivery of negative criticism may inevitably involve the delivery of controversial words.
“Paradoxically, it is a selfish act to not give negative feedback to others because you’re afraid of how it might make you look,” says Dr. Christian Jarrett, a psychologist turned writer. “Put your ego to one side and stop worrying about being popular or trying to be nice. By providing justified negative feedback in an appropriate manner, the recipient benefits, and you will be a more effective colleague and manager.”
When a person habitually avoids delivering negative feedback, the source is almost always some kind of fear. It’s vital for you to look in the mirror, identify what your fear is, and overcome it. It’s is the only way you can lead people effectively and enable your company to move steadily in a positive direction.
Seven helpful tips for delivering negative feedback.
Delivery of negative feedback doesn’t have to consist of a cold, uncomfortable exchange that may escalate to yelling at the person on the other side of the desk. There are methods of pursuing a difficult conversation that end well. Keep the following seven tips in mind:
1. Build positive relationships over time.
If you want to deliver negative feedback without creating divisiveness and angst, then you have to work on building long-term relationships. Think about it like this -- would you be more receptive to receiving negative feedback from a close friend you trust, or a manager you interact with once a month? You’re more likely to accept negative feedback from someone you trust.
This is why it’s so important to build positive rapport with your employees. This lets them know you have their best interests in mind and aren’t just going to come around to shame them. I schedule regular one-on-one calls with each of our team members at OptinMonster to do just that.
2. Don’t bury it.
Sometimes you’ll hear motivational speakers tell you the best way to deliver negative feedback is to bury it between compliments. Some call this the sh*t sandwich approach. You start off with a compliment, give some negative feedback, and then quickly close with another general compliment. It may sound like a good idea, but in reality, isn’t it fairly cowardly?
According to a study out of the University of Chicago, it doesn’t work either. Half of the people who received negative feedback concluded they were doing great; the middle part went straight over their heads. The lesson here is to avoid burying negative feedback. Just come right out and say it. If you’ve spent time building a positive relationship with the individual, it won’t be necessary to concoct a compliment just to soften the blow.
3. Seize the moment.
Because giving negative feedback is an uncomfortable task, many people will put it off until it absolutely must happen. The problem is that you end up psyching yourself out and making a bigger deal of the endeavor than it is.
The best feedback surfaces when you’re in the moment. The more timely and relevant the feedback, the more it will resonate with the recipient, too. If you wait days, weeks or months before you say something, the listener will wonder why you waited so long. This runs the risk of making you appear weak and timid.
4. Never make it personal.
There’s a big difference between negative feedback and a personal attack. You should never confuse the two. When delivering negative feedback, try to remove the person from the matter as much as possible.
For example, let’s say one of your employees has been consistently producing reports with punctuation errors and faulty grammar. Delivering negative feedback will entail calling out the problem and asking the individual to be more careful. However, you want to avoid the mistake of calling the individual lazy or inadequate. Let the person know you believe he or she is fully capable of fixing the problem, but it must be addressed immediately.
If you make the feedback personal, the individual will get defensive. This diverts attention from the actual problem and substitutes a “me versus you” dynamic, which defeats the purpose and creates an entirely new problem.
5. Offer positive reinforcement.
Don’t only give negative feedback. You should also be giving your employees regular encouragement when they do things right. Here’s how to tell whether you’re doing both or not. Do employees shudder when they see you coming? In other words, when people see you approaching, do they expect you to deliver bad feedback?
If the answer to this might be yes, then you aren’t awarding enough encouragement and positive reinforcement. Make this a priority moving forward, and you’ll see a lot of positive changes.
6. Make yourself available.
If you’re going to dish out negative feedback, you must be willing to take feedback from your peers. Employees are much more engaged when their managers ask for feedback on their own performance. This makes sense, but it’s easy to forget.
The key to opening up to feedback is making yourself available. Maintain an open-door policy, allow people to submit anonymous suggestions, and never punish someone for speaking up. When you show your employees you’re willing to accept negative feedback from them, this makes it much easier for you to deliver negative feedback when they don’t perform well.
7. Put it in writing.
Are you deathly afraid of giving negative feedback? Do these tips sound too intimidating? When all else fails, put it in writing. Seriously. Writing can make things much easier. By writing down the feedback and emailing it to the employee, you give yourself time to gather your thoughts, and explain clearly where you’re coming from. But make sure you don’t just leave it at that. Ask the individual to come see you in your office or if you're a remote company like ours, then do a Skype or Zoom call. It’s essential to have the face-to-face conversation. The written statement is primarily a way to break the ice.
Do what’s best for the company.
This process is not about being comfortable or being liked. As a business owner or manager, you have to do what’s best for the employee -- and ultimately what’s best for the company. Sometimes this means delivering negative feedback, or having to state something that isn’t comfortable and endearing. In the future, you can use these tips to make the process a little easier.