Giving negative feedback is a tricky business.
Go hard, and you’re likely to invite over-defensiveness and have the recipient close themselves off entirely to you.
Go easy, and you’ll make your feedback redundant, like a passing suggestion they might–if they can, when there’s time, and if it’s not too much trouble–want to consider acting on.
The best way is to take the middle path, balancing assertiveness with encouragement: here’s how.
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Let’s call the person you’re giving feedback to Joe.
Before you even go up to Joe to broach the subject, you need to do a quick self-inventory of your emotions. To effectively catalyse Joe’s improvement with your feedback, you need to be level-headed.
Getting riled up, making insinuations and being insulting isn’t going to help. Make sure you’re calm and collected first before moving forward.
Whether you ask them for a chat a day or two in advance or on the day itself, make sure that you’re in a private setting when you start giving the feedback. Joe probably isn’t going to appreciate getting called out and lectured in front of all his co-workers.
Both your verbal and non-verbal communication goes a long way in setting the right tone. Avoid using condescension or sarcasm when you speak. It puts unnecessary distance between you and Joe, which makes it harder to give negative feedback.
Establishing rapport before diving into the actual negative feedback goes a long way in priming Joe’s mind to open up to feedback. Although it might be obvious to you, it lets him know that you’re not trying to destroy him, his self-esteem, or his career.
Time to start getting real. Before you lay it on, though, it’s a good idea to prepare them for what you’re about to say, especially if it’s going to be particularly biting.
Start transitioning into the negative by saying something like, “I’m going to be honest/direct with you here, Joe” after you’ve established rapport.
Never make it personal. Always ensure that your feedback is couched in a particular situation or behaviour of Joe’s that wasn’t up to your expectations.
For example, instead of saying point-blank, “You’re tardy and irresponsible”, tie it to a particular instance where he displayed those traits:
“Last week you handed in your report past the deadline. I noticed you’ve done this a few times before too, and I know you’re better than that. What happened?”
The whole point in giving constructive criticism is to effect a positive change. If you’re not specific about what change you want to see and by when, you’re allowing your criticism to simply slip through the cracks after a while and be forgotten.
Instead of spoonfeeding, though, invite Joe to reflect on what he thinks is the best way for him to improve also puts the ball back in his court and gives him a sense of ownership.
Going back to Joe’s tardiness, you could say: “Before your next deadline, I want you to think about how you can improve your work process so you can hand your work in on time. Can you get back to me about it by tomorrow?”
Most people end the discussion here and leave it at that: “I’ve given you the feedback. Now do it.”
The best leaders, though, know how to truly motivate their subordinates. What are Joe’s career goals? What are his core values? Linking your criticism with what motivates him specifically provides a bigger push factor for him to really work on making a change because he’ll be able to see a clear, direct benefit to it.
Finish up by strengthening Joe’s self-efficacy (his belief in his own ability to perform well) by reinforcing your belief in his capabilities and talents as an employee and as a person.
Finally, you need to keep track of the progress that Joe is making after your conversation with him.
Drop by to ask him how it’s coming along, or if he’s facing any obstacles to improvement that you might be able to advise him on. If there’s been a marked improvement, don’t hold back on the praise; it’s important to recognise his efforts and show appreciation for it.