Giving Negative Feedback: The Art of Making It Effective and Productive

Trying to correct someone else’s mistakes can be a truly challenging experience. When it comes to interpersonal relationships in a professional environment, small mistakes can have long-lasting consequences. Seeking help on how to provide negative feedback, one might encounter a myriad of conflicting advice.

Since none of us is flawless, the need to provide corrective input arises from time to time. Feedback enables people to identify their blind spots and take action to tackle them. This process also provides a way to understand how people perceive us, and if this perception fits our own. It is a two-way channel to collect required information in order to improve and excel in one’s career.

However, giving negative feedback requires caution and skilled approach because it can have serious consequences to its receiver’s emotional state and motivation levels. That is why, as a responsible and smart manager or leader, one must learn the art of delivering feedback that not only corrects unwanted behaviour but also creates long-term impact. If your responsibilities are putting you in a position to criticise someone’s work or attitude from time to time, then following these pointers will guide you to what you need to be careful about and what to avoid entirely.

Keep Your Emotions In Check

Unlike giving positive feedback, negative feedback is an equally strenuous activity to both the giver and the receiver. It is also an act where emotions play a great part and can often overcome the giver or receiver’s cognitive abilities. Many of us have learned the hard way that it is not wise to lash out or criticise when you are angry or under extreme pressure. Sometimes, an employee’s behaviour or attitude can trigger emotional or unpleasant responses but, in the end, it only makes the situation worse.

Wait for a better opportunity, if you feel that the emotions are high. Remember that you are giving negative feedback not to release your pressure, but to provide an analysis of the events to trigger corrective actions for the future.

Put Behaviour Before Attitude

While giving negative feedback, one must form it on said individual’s work behaviour and not his or her personal attitude towards this person. We must also be careful not to generalise single events or one-off mistakes into a behaviour. This is important if we want to avoid creating frustration on the receiving end.

Instead, highlight the key points which will assist the receiver in changing his or her behaviour in order to fall in line with your expectations. Giving negative feedback should be given in a structured and direct way, there is no use in beating around the bush.

Prepare yourself for the feedback session, don’t improvise your speech. Have some notes with you and define the keywords you will use during the conversation. Remember that poorly prepared messages can easily be misinterpreted.

Do Not Sugarcoat It

FeedbackAnother common mistake that project managers commit is delivering negative feedback by adopting a sandwich method or by sugar-coating it with lots of compliments. Not only does this create confusion in the mind of the receiver, but also dilutes the effectiveness of your message. Not all individuals will get the real message behind your feedback, and they may end up continuing the behaviour that was meant to be addressed (and corrected).

Rather, be clear and highlight improvement areas or negative comments separately to make it effective. Over time, it has proven to enhance employees’ productivity.

Avoid long feedback sessions; if you get the impression that the recipient is not getting the message, take a break or adjourn the meeting.

Be Gentle and Ask for Permission

This may not be a familiar practice, especially if you are receiver’s boss or senior manager. However, asking permission can make the individual more interested and excited at the prospect of hearing your feedback. It also enhances the effectiveness of the message as the receiver feels that they have been fairly and respectfully treated.

It’s more productive if you begin explaining your point gradually instead of coming to a conclusion quickly. Also, try not to bully the individual by just sticking to factual points; you should describe their behaviour you have recognised and explain the importance of changing it in the future.

If the recipient is not in the right mood to receive your coaching, it makes no sense to continue. Make sure that you are treating them gently and respectfully or move the meeting to a later date.

One common mistake is to end up giving negative feedback while discussing other matters. If your counterpart has their mind settled on discussing something else, they will not be entirely receptive to your arguments.

Frame Your Critique in a Smart Way

If your ultimate goal is to modify behaviour in the desired direction and achieve positive outcomes, then focus on forming feedback that will make the individual in question work differently. For instance, you may begin with unexpected and effective questions such as “What are your career goals?”.

Make them aware of the particular behaviour that you seek in them. Put forward your future expectations and goals in front of them, and make them realise that it is high time to change their behaviour in order to achieve these desired goals. Offer them solutions, not just problems.

It is the practice of many leaders to deliver bad news or negative feedback and follow this with an afternoon break. That way, the recipient can think over your feedback with a free and open mind and get some breathing time.

Effort Triumphs over Ability

If you want to highlight some good points, then praise your employee’s efforts rather than their ability. Praising efforts are more relevant, and they can clearly relate to them. On the other hand, criticising a person’s ability is something that could make them consider their worth, and it might feel insulting.

That is why it is important to focus both on your long-term goals and on the individual’s efforts made so far in order to deliver corrective feedback more effectively.

The point to remember is that every human has some limitation and they tend to make mistakes, but it is always in our hands to correct their behaviour in a smart way and make giving negative feedback productive in the end. The challenge is to know how to deliver negative feedback that doesn’t feel like a personal attack.

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