There’s a Better Way to Give Negative Feedback

It’s tough telling people they did wrong. It’s harder when they aren’t doing enough. We hope we’ll get our point across but wonder how to soften the blow. Sometimes, giving it straight is the right way. Other times, you have to take the longer route. It depends on who you’re speaking to.

Leaders call their employees to offer constructive feedback. The problem is it doesn’t sound that way often.  The conversation turns into an argument, with both parties feeling angry and disappointed. It can get personal too.

As the title suggests, there’s a better way. Or, if I may, there are other better ways. But, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So, let me explain the process.

  1. Practice Empathy.
    If you’re giving feedback, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. No two individuals are alike. Some people are receptive, while others are defensive. If you like preparing notes before your conversation, choose your words carefully. But never sugarcoat. Remember, you’re trying to get your point across. It might get lost in all that sugar.
  2. Begin with a compliment.
    What is the other person doing right? There is always something worth mentioning but, be specific. Oh, and don’t forget the small stuff because they add up. Praising encourages more good work.  Some leaders try to butter up the person across them before giving negative comments. I suggest you avoid flattery because it will fail.
  3. Address the deed and not the doer.
    Learn to separate the two. There’s a big difference between “You’re wrong” and “What you did was wrong.” Make sure you focus on the latter. Make this clear to the other person. Also, a good approach is to talk about the adverse effects of a person’s actions. Many people will insist what they’re doing is right. If they realize their actions cause harm, they’ll be more receptive to what you’re saying.
  4. Take time to listen.
    Now it’s time to listen to the other person’s side. You might discover parts of the story you didn’t know. A full grasp of the situation from the other person’s perspective can make a difference.
    Listening tells others you’re fair. You won’t pass judgment until you hear all sides. Instead of clamming up, people will be more open to having this “talk” with you.  In time, you’ll create an atmosphere responsive to feedback.
  5. Find solutions together.
    This is the most crucial part of the process. How can you affect change or solve a problem?  Well, maybe the answer can come from the person you’re talking to.  So, it would help if you asked for ideas or solutions. You can agree on the steps to take, which the other person can commit to.  When you ask people to participate, your talk becomes productive.  Don’t forget to express your support.

With enough practice, you’ll develop your style of giving negative feedback.  Adopt an approach that focuses on the other person’s improvement and success.  Keep in mind that it’s always about their welfare.

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