When working in a team, there are times when it is necessary to provide feedback. Feedback is an important assessment tool for a more effective work, as it´s a way for people to become aware of their impact on others and on the work they are producing. No one is flawless, so if we don’t provide each other with feedback, we won’t become aware of our blind spots and weaker areas. Feedback can thus be seen as an efficient channel to gather information about what you are doing, so you improve and learn from it.
As a matter of fact, the people you work with actually enjoy receiving feedback including the negative one! Consulting firm Zenger Folkman found that while managers aren´t too keen in delivering negative criticism, all employees value hearing it — and often find it even more useful than praise.
But if positive praise is always easy to give, what about those moments when it is necessary to point out to your collaborator or team some negative views on what they are producing ? How to do it without demotivating or demoralizing the other person?
First and foremost it´s important to recall once more, that the ultimate goal of feedback is not to tell people what to do or how to do it, but to improve people´s behavior and consequently the result of their work. As a manager or the leader of your company, it is also important to realize that you are directly involved in what you are criticizing. Negative feedback is to be given in the context of a relationship. If you are criticizing the other, in the context of a common project, you are as well criticizing yourself! It is in collaboration that you need to find the tools and strategies to improve the work of your collaborator, which is as well your own work.
Here we assemble a series of rules that can help you learn how to deliver negative feedback:
1. Negative feedback should be an unusual event: If you run your own business or are in a position of management, you should be aware that your behavior influences the environment of your company. If you and the people in your company criticize and complain a lot, maybe this is a sign that you are providing too much negative feedback, and the risk is that the work environment can deteriorate. Be aware that critiques should be delivered just once in a while, and not permanently, as too much critique ruins the relationships between your collaborators, and risk their disengagement and consequently their performance.
2. Never give feedback as a “sandwich” : In an article published in the Harvard business review, Sarah Green explain that to feed a sandwich means to give criticism in the middle of a lot of praise. The risk is that if you sandwich the negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback, it will sound insincere and threatens to dilute your message. Instead, separate your negative commentary from your praise, and don’t hedge.
3. Be brief and point out your negative feedback in real time:
If you need to criticize the performance of someone, do it if possibly immediately after the event. Try to be concise and resist the tendency of escalating the criticism, by sticking to the single event.
4. Bear in mind to provide more positive than negative feedback
All of us do need to listen to praise because praise bonds people in a team. Various studies have shown that the most effective teams (and the most happily married couples) use praise a lot in their work environment. Some studies have even come up with a ratio: five compliments to every criticism. It is thus important to praise frequently your team, but remember not to do it at same time you’re critiquing as they might get confused.
5. Avoid delivering negative feedback through email
Email is more easily misunderstood by people and when messages are copied, it brings other people into the discussion. To deliever negative feedback through email might escalate a situation and produce negative consequences, which will not help you or your collaborators/employees.
6. Don’t provide critical feedback together with discussions of pay and promotion
Sarah Green reminds us that promotion and increases in salary are emotional events, so to connect critical feedback with such crucial discussions, will hurt people unnecessarily. Criticism should be delivered separately from discussions about pay and promotions.
7. If you feel you have the skills to do it, be critical in public if necessary
The mantra “praise in public, criticize in private” is a sound good old idea with a proven record. But sometimes, according to Roger Schwarz writing for the Harvard Business Review, you have to be critical in public, particularly in team projects. Be sure though to involve everyone in the group criticism ( understanding yourself as part of the group and part of the criticism) and never focus your negative feedback in one single member.
8. Ask permission
By asking permission by saying something like: “Can I give you some feedback?” you “warn” the other person that a critique is coming, which will open up the other person for what comes next preparing her to receive your criticism less personally and in a more practical way that focus on results. Be aware though that if the other person says no, you have to respect their decision.
9. Frame your critique by the good results that both aim to achieve
You should never frame your critique by stating what’s wrong with the person. You will get more results if you help your employee to look at his/her work differently by asking the other person what are his/her goals, and framing these in the common goals of the project.
10. Be clear about the new behavior you´d like to see
The behaviors you are looking for, should focus on effort and not ability. A famous reseach done by Carol Dweck’s discovered that the best way to keep people motivated is to praise effort. Focusing your praise on behaviors (particularly common ones) with sentences such as: “ I can see how you and all of us have put a lot of attention to detail into this” or “I’m so impressed with how hard you and the rest of the team worked to get this done on time and under budget” — means that when you have to deliver some corrective feedback, people will take it as well less personally: you are speaking about a project, and not engaging in a personal attack. Criticism thus feels less threatening and having a clear reason that aims for a common good. Never forget though, that as a manager or leader of your company, you need to perform the same type of behavior you would like to see in your employees or collaborators.
Founder Dinis Guarda
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