Giving negative feedback can be difficult and many employers avoid it altogether. However, negative feedback can be an important tool that increases employee engagement and productivity. It is only effective when it is delivered in a constructive way. With leaders as mentors, employees learn to appreciate negative feedback because they know the intention is to help them improve.
Employees who don’t receive any feedback are never sure if what they do is even being noticed and tend to feel neglected and unimportant. Office Vibe did a global survey and found that 96% of employees feel it’s a good thing to receive feedback on a regular basis and that 83% appreciate both positive and negative feedback. Here are ways to make sure your negative feedback is constructive.
The best approach is a direct one
Your employee will be more receptive to what you have to stay if you start with a compliment that you really mean. It shows that you’re focusing on the positive and identifying areas where the employee can grow. That doesn’t mean that you should sandwich the negative between two positives.
The well-known “feedback sandwich” may give employees a false sense of how they’re doing. The ulterior motive for giving praise feels disingenuous and can undermine trust. It’s best to deliver your feedback without sugar-coating it in compliments.
When negative feedback is too vague, it’s ineffective. Joshua Courtney says that when he first started out in his career as a writer, his manager gave him some vague negative feedback about his writing that left him feeling depressed because he didn’t know where he had fallen short and what was expected of him.
Ask questions that cause self-reflection
Your feedback will be more constructive if you ask employees certain questions, such as their thought process in the situation and why they acted the way they did. This gives you perspective and helps the employee to get more insight into their behavior.
Employees are often aware that they are having problems and may even have their own ideas on how they can improve. Employees are more invested if they feel they are involved in improving and growing instead of being told what to do.
Tip: You could say, “I know you missed your sales targets this quarter, but it’s just this quarter. Have you any ideas for how to get back on track?
Listen before you speak
Hear employees out before you speak. You must make sure you have all the information if you want to collaboratively create a plan to improve. Try to put yourself in their position and listen to their challenges, fears and any other factors that may be impeding their performance.
This helps you to give feedback from a place of empathy. When you approach the conversation by letting them know that you’re aware of their struggles and you want to help, they are likely to be much more receptive and feel empowered to make suggestions.
Focus on the job and not the person
It is important to avoid making employees defensive when giving negative feedback. If they become defensive, they’re more likely to be mentally coming up with ways to discount your feedback than internalizing it. You want them to focus on the job and not on doubting their worth as a person.
When you make comments directed at the person (or are vague enough that they can take personal offense) is a surefire way to get a poor response. If you focus on the job, this is less likely to occur.
For example, instead of saying, “Your bossy attitude is affecting the morale of the whole team,” you could rather say, “Some of your team members have voiced that they would like more autonomy on projects.”
Employees may be able to refute your evaluation of their performance, but this is difficult to do if you have the data to back up what you’re saying. You could say, “I see that your sales are down by 30% this month. What do you feel has influenced the drop and what can we do to improve it?”
Explain the implications
Employees need to understand the implications of the problem and why it is important to change. For example, perhaps you have an employee who keeps sending out emails with grammatical errors and typos. Instead of just telling them that they need to stop doing this, you need to explain why it’s so important to send out error-free emails.
When refocusing the employees, it helps if you can describe exactly how their actions have affected others. Be specific about this and provide facts and examples so the employee can see that the feedback is fair.
For example, if an employee fell behind on a deadline, explain exactly how this put other members of the team in a crunch and made the whole project fall behind.
Show them how they can improve and keep following up
Pixar has a formula for giving feedback they called "plussing". You can only criticize an idea if you can also add a constructive suggestion.
Negative feedback usually leads to higher performance when employees are given specific suggestions for improvement. Focusing on ways to move forward from a lack of progress will help to keep employees engaged.
It is important to look back at what has happened, but you also need to help employees look forward and make adjustments that will influence their future performance. Focus on the actions that they need to take in the coming weeks or months. For example, you could help them to create some goals and timelines within which to complete them.
Shayna Pond co-founder of Model Teaching suggests that:
"If you are consistently providing feedback- positive and improvement feedback- and frequently communicating methods for growth and improvement while celebrating successes, you can create an environment where feedback is not seen as a punitive measure but something that can be celebrated as an opportunity for growth."
Give negative feedback in small doses
If employees are consistently receiving negative feedback, they can get to the place where they feel they never do anything right. A work environment filled with criticisms is not a healthy one.
A Zenger and Folkman study found that 67% of the employees said the best managers offered more praise, recognition and positive feedback than negative feedback.
Tailor your feedback to the recipient
A technique of giving negative feedback to some employees may not work with others. Use your insight into the characters of employees to choose the right approach for them. For example, an employee who is a sensitive perfectionist may only need a subtle nudge in the right direction. A self-confident, high performer may prefer a more direct approach.
An employee’s expertise may influence the response to negative feedback, according to a research paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Experts on a subject are more ready to hear negative feedback than beginners who are more likely to seek encouragement.
Tip: If you don’t know your team members well, ask them how they would prefer to receive feedback. When you approach them with a question like this, they understand that you’re on their side and that you have their best interests at heart.
Managers shouldn’t be the only ones giving negative feedback
Feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street. Managers need to create an environment where employees also feel free to give negative feedback. It’s important for everyone in a team to be able to say his or her piece.
If you discuss the importance of feedback with your team, they start to understand the reasoning behind why to give it. Creating regular, structured feedback sessions is often the best way to foster feedback skills. Accepting and acting on employee feedback improves the relationship and makes them feel heard.
When giving negative feedback, you need to be direct, ask questions, listen before you speak and consider the words you use. Focus on the job rather than the person, explain the implications of actions and offer concrete ways in which they can improve. Remember that you need to be open to negative feedback, too. Meetings should be conversations, rather than a list of demands.
Ask your employees how they would like to receive negative feedback and remember that every employee is different. They will respond in different ways and you need to tailor your feedback to the recipient. If you follow these suggestions, your employees will appreciate rather than fear negative feedback and they are likely to become more engaged and productive.
Susan Saurel is a Houston, Texas-based digital marketer working in the corporate sector. She spends most of her spare time traveling around the globe and learning about new cultures. Her current assignments are with the paper writing service, Assignment Man and best essay writing service reviews.