Giving Negative Feedback

Every now and then, we coaches have that ONE conversation that defines why we do what we do. That happened today. Today, I had the privilege of co-creating a new approach to ‘Giving Negative Feedback,’ a topic many people find challenging.

What is challenging about giving negative feedback? It’s unpleasant, unpredictable and something many of us avoid. We worry about the recipient reacting defensively and our feedback not being accepted. In extreme circumstances, it could even provoke retaliation. At the very best, it is something most of us feel nervous about beforehand.

Here are our tips for a successful feedback session:

  1. Reframe the entire conversation to be about building and strengthening relationships. Getting feedback is a gift and if we give it from a place of caring, we can truly strengthen the relationship. This is relevant both in our professional lives as well as in our private lives.
  2. Reframe the entire conversation to be about what needs to change in order to achieve own goals. Instead of saying, ‘X was not done well’, you could say ‘X needs to improve in order to achieve your goal of Y.’ This helps keep the conversation future-focused and create motivation for the change.
  3. Change the rhetoric from ‘negative feedback’ to ‘growth opportunity’. This helps diffuse and relax the entire conversation.
  4. Focus on the behavior and not the person. This is an oldie, but goodie. Still true today as it always has been.
  5. Create a conversation with two-way feedback. Request your own feedback from the individual for either things in general or a specific event. This encourages open communication and builds trust, if done with authenticity.
  6. Ensure that feedback is timely, as soon as appropriate after a specific instance of the non-desired behavior. Feedback should not be saved for a formal performance review.
  7. Deliver the feedback in a culturally-sensitive way. As we learn from Erin Meyer in The Culture Map, different cultures typically give and receive feedback in different ways.
  8. Infuse the entire conversation with empathy, reason, understanding, honesty. We felt also that it should be delivered in person, or as close to in person as possible.

What works for you? What are your secrets for giving feedback?

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