Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

How to Deliver Negative Feedback

Last week I wrote about a way to help generate positive feedback for your team members.

The other side of this coin is negative feedback.  Negative feedback needs to be more specific and timelier than positive feedback.  In my experience, people are hyper sensitive to negative feedback.  Tell someone nine great things about their performance and one moderately negative thing and they always seem to focus on the one negative.

Because people are so sensitive to negative feedback it is important to be very specific about the problem.  “You need to apply yourself more”, or  “You need to improve your attitude” are useless and damaging examples of negative, unspecific feedback.  It is also important to deliver negative feedback in a very timely fashion, while the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind. One of my team drops the ball; we talk that day or as soon as we are both able.

This morning at the team meeting your behaviour was unacceptable.  No matter how much you disagree with someone, my expectation is that you will respect the person as I respect you.  When you told Kathy that she pisses you off, you crossed a line.  You shut her down, you took everyone aback and you put me in a very awkward situation.  I want you to express your opinion, but I need you to do it always with respect for the other people in the room.  Imagine how you would feel with Kathy had said that to you, or if I treated you like that in front of everyone. 

Negative Feedback is part of the checklist. Image from AJ Cann's Flickr. Click for Link.
Negative Feedback is part of the checklist. Image from AJ Cann’s Flickr. Click for Link.

Why did you feel you needed to act that way? <listen><ask questions><listen>

Here is a better way you could have handled this… 

What do you think and how do you feel now? <listen><ask questions><listen>

Ideally a discussion like this would happen right after the issue took place.  Doing this at a review three weeks later does more damage than good.  It will dilute any positive feedback and it will leave the person mad at you for leaving the issue so long. Save up a few negative issues and you make things even worse.

Negative feedback delivered in a caring supportive way is an art mastered by all great managers.