Monday, October 17, 2016

Seven tips for delivering negative feedback.

The Engineering Manager's Mug

On July 20th 2016, Syed Balkhi wrote in Entrepreneur Magazine about several ways to deliver positive feedback about negative things - thus preventing a challenging conversation going from good to bad to I wish I'd never brought it up. Here is an edited - and commercial free - version.

1. Build positive relationships over time.

If you want to deliver negative feedback without creating divisiveness and angst, you have to work on building long-term relationships. Would you be more receptive to receiving negative feedback from a close friend you trust, or a manager you only interact with once a month? 
You’re more likely to accept negative feedback from someone you trust.
This is why it’s so important to build positive rapport with your employees. This lets them know you are interested in their success and aren’t just going to come around to shame them. (Syed schedules regular one-on-one calls with each of his team members at OptinMonster.)

2. Don’t bury it.

Sometimes you’ll hear motivational speakers tell you the best way to deliver negative feedback is to bury it between compliments.  According to a study out of the University of Chicago, half of the people who received "sandwiched" negative feedback concluded they were doing great; the middle (negative) part went straight over their heads. Avoid burying negative feedback. If you’ve spent time building a positive relationship with the individual, it won’t be necessary to concoct a compliment just to soften the blow. 

3. Seize the moment.

Because giving negative feedback is an uncomfortable task, many people will put it off until it absolutely must happen. The problem is that you end up psyching yourself out and making a bigger deal of the endeavor than it is.
The best feedback surfaces when you’re in the moment. The more timely and relevant the feedback, the more it will resonate with the recipient, too. If you wait days, weeks or months before you say something, the listener will wonder why you waited so long. It also diminishes the importance of the event and opens the door to being challenged with; "If it was so important why didn't you mention it at the time?"

4. Never make it personal.

There’s a big difference between negative feedback and a personal attack. You should never confuse the two. When delivering negative feedback, try to remove the person from the matter as much as possible. 
Let’s say one of your employees has been consistently producing reports with punctuation errors and faulty grammar. Delivering negative feedback will entail calling out the problem and asking the individual to be more careful. However, you want to avoid the mistake of calling the individual lazy or inadequate. Let the person know you believe he or she is fully capable of fixing the problem, but it must be addressed immediately.
If you make the feedback personal, the individual will get defensive. This diverts attention from the actual problem and substitutes a “me versus you” dynamic, which defeats the purpose and creates an entirely new problem.

5. Offer positive reinforcement.

Don’t only give negative feedback. You should also be giving your employees regular encouragement when they do things right. Here’s how to tell whether you’re doing both or not. Do employees shudder when they see you coming? In other words, when people see you approaching, do they expect you to deliver bad feedback? 
If the answer to this might be yes, then you aren’t awarding enough encouragement and positive reinforcement. Make this a priority moving forward, and you’ll see a lot of positive changes.

6. Make yourself available.

If you’re going to dish out negative feedback, you must be willing to take feedback from your peers. Employees are much more engaged when their managers ask for feedback on their own performance. This makes sense, but it’s easy to forget.  
The key to opening up to feedback is making yourself available. Maintain an open-door policy, allow people to submit anonymous suggestions, and never punish someone for speaking up. When you show your employees you’re willing to accept negative feedback from them, this makes it much easier for you to deliver negative feedback when they don’t perform well.

7. Put it in writing.

By writing down the feedback and emailing it to the employee, you give yourself time to gather your thoughts, and explain clearly your position. Ask the individual to come see you in your office or if you're remote do a Skype or Zoom call. It’s essential to have the face-to-face conversation. The written statement is primarily a way to break the ice.

Don't forget - the company IS the employees.

As a business owner or manager, you have to do what’s best for the employee -- and ultimately what’s best for the company. Sometimes this means delivering negative feedback, or having to state something that isn’t comfortable and endearing.
Good employees can be hard to find and even harder to retain, particularly if the work environment is something out of David Copperfield. In today's free wheeling job market it's critical to everyone's success.

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