How to Give “Negative” Feedback

Career Blog

Manager giving guidelines at the office

The first step is to stop seeing it as negative.

Imagine for a moment that your good friend is about to give a speech right after lunch, and you notice he has a big piece of spinach in his teeth. Would you tell him? Of course, you would. Sure, it might be uncomfortable, even embarrassing but your action is of great benefit to the recipient.

While providing feedback on the ultimate impact of his speech is more nuanced, it has the same value. For example, imagine his speech went well…except for his rapid-fire delivery style. You could offer the following insight: Given the global audience I think your speech would resonate even better if you slowed your pace and paused occasionally. This direct, specific, timely, and respectful message is another gift that, if accepted, could drastically improve his next outing.

And notice that the feedback was not sugar-coated by being sandwiched between positives. People often try to let themselves off the hook with this trick by saying things like, love your shoes, I didn’t get the point of your talk, but your energy was great! When you do that the receiver will either only hear the positives or think your praise is disingenuous. It’s so much more effective to be honest and direct.

Understandably people feel pressure when giving feedback. After all, what if they are wrong? What if their constructive criticism sends the person down a destructive path? Relax. Just because you give someone feedback doesn’t mean they are obliged to take it. Remind them that while you made your observation in real time and stand by your statement, they would be wise to look for trends. Maybe you caught them on a bad day and your comment, while accurate in the moment, is a one-off observation that can be discounted. On the other hand, perhaps it’s indicative of a crucial behavior pattern that should be addressed

In the end, when you give someone feedback, you are just holding up a mirror and inviting them to make a choice. From there they can see and act on what they wish.

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