Giving Negative Feedback: Quick Tips

A stone makes a chip in your windscreen. If you leave it, it will spread and a small crack will become significantly larger, and likely more expensive to repair. Leave it too long and the chances of you having to replace the complete windscreen are pretty much guaranteed.

Being unhappy with one of your team’s performance in a task can be like that original chip. If you avoid the issue and do nothing, the action will be repeated or increased. Over time the situation will escalate and you are likely to become more judgmental than objective. Dealing with a performance related issue in a timely manner is key to stopping the problem from increasing or spreading like that crack.

However, giving negative feedback is not one of the more enjoyable aspects of people management, and one that is often avoided. So how can you do it in a way that is constructive for both you and your team member? What can you say so that they leave the room motivated to do something differently in future, rather than feeling like they’ve been in the head teacher’s office for kicking a ball through a window?

3 steps and language points to motivate you to try something different:

1. Start with a positive.

„Thank you for the effort you put into correlating the timesheets. It really helped the finance team put together the claim for the first quarter.“

2. Give a specific example of the problem and the impact. This shows that you have an understanding and vested interest in the situation.

„I noticed that the deadline you gave the Project Managers to get their information to you was two days before your own deadline to get the finished report to the finance team. I saw that this put a lot of pressure on you and you had to work considerable overtime. I also noticed Birgit working late to organize the Managers‘ Webcast as you weren’t free to support her.“

Now compare the example to the one below:

„Your deadline for the Project Managers was too late. You shouldn’t have had to have done that overtime and you left Birgit to deal with the Managers‘ Webcast on her own.“

Doesn’t sound so good…Only using ‚you‘ or ‚your‘ to start a sentence sounds judgmental and is likely to make them become defensive and not open to constructive direction of what you would like to happen next time.  Alternatively, in the first example each sentence starts with ‚I‘. This sounds more objective, backs up that you understand the situation and that you want to help them do better in future. It is also much more difficult to argue against a statement starting with ‚I‘ than ‚you‘. However, avoid using „I think“ as this implies a personal feeling and can be felt to be more judgmental than „I noticed“ or „I saw“.

3. Say what you would like to see in future. However, only set one concrete action unless absolutely necessary. Keeping it short and simple means you are far more likely to see success.

„Next time, set a deadline for the Project Managers of one week before your own deadline.“

Let us know if you have any other suggestions or experiences on giving negative feedback in the comments area below.  Also, click here for more information on how you can improve your approach to delivering difficult news.

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