Giving Negative Feedback

Before you give negative feedback

When we have to give feedback to someone that we think they might find difficult or painful to hear there are certain questions that maybe helpful for us to make sure we find answers for first before attempting to give the negative feedback. Consider the following questions:

1) Will they get very upset, and if so, how will I deal with that?
2) Will it affect the relationship I have with that person in any lasting way?
3) Will they really hear what I'm saying or will they try to distort it?
4) Will it really have any effect on how they behave?

 Let's look at each of these questions in turn

 

1)  Will they get very upset, and if so, how will l deal with that?

We often avoid telling people unpleasant things because it can sometimes make us feel bad when we do it, or sometimes we find it uncomfortable to have to cope with someone's distress or anger. An essential question to ask ourselves in this situation is can we afford not to give the feedback?

Failure to give people negative feedback can result in:

a) No change in the person's behaviour because they have never heard that it was causing difficulties.
b) An enormous confrontation in the future as things build up to an explosion.
c) Problems in our continuing relationship with the person which naturally develops when we are aware of something and they are not, or when we are trying to keep something from them. Remember!  Giving them the feedback gives them an opportunity to change.

 

2)  Will it affect the relationship I have with that person in any lasting way?

The short answer is that it might! This is always a risk. We can minimise this risk by:

a) Having a good relationship to begin with built on respect, genuineness and empathy.
See also: Empathy Vs Sympathy

b) Giving the feedback in a skilled way.

Neither of these are magical or mystical conditions which happen only by accident of birth or good fortune. Relationships are good because people work at them. Feedback can be constructive if we remember a few basic guidelines and it is given within the context of a good relationship. 

 

3)  Will they really hear what I'm saying or will they try to distort it?

We can discover if we have been accurately heard by asking the person to paraphrase what we have said to them and by giving them an opportunity to comment on what we have said.

 

4)  Will it really have any effect on how they behave?

This depends firstly on whether they accept the feedback or not. In the final analysis people must make their own decision whether or not to accept the feedback given. If they do not it is vital to clarify conditions of employment, performance standards etc.

In other words someone may not accept the feedback but if that means that they refuse to make any required behaviour changes the consequences of that will need to be clearly pointed out.

Sometimes the person accepts the feedback but then does nothing to change. This will usually be because they had left the feedback session with no clear objectives to which they had committed themselves. Help them work out a step by step action plan to enable them to implement their objectives by asking them to:

a) Specify what they are going to do differently, from when, and how they will find out if it has been effective. This is specifying an action plan and building in evaluation. b) Think or talk through the consequences of acting or not acting on the feedback given.

 

Remember! feedback is most effective if:

it is given as soon after the event as is appropriate. feedback needs to be descriptive rather than evaluative and refers to behaviour which can be changed then it is the individual’s choice as to whether they change their behaviour or not.

For more on coaching and feedback, check out our Coaching People For Better Performance instant downlaod training package.