Giving Negative Feedback in a Positive Light

Receiving feedback about yourself and the work you do is vital if you want to progress.

Knowing what you do well reinforces you are doing a good job and lets you continue on with confidence. Knowing what you need to work on can be a bitter pill to swallow but is essential if you want to self-reflect and work on those aspects to grow and improve. After all we all have room for improvement, and we should be grateful to get the insight. 

Despite all this, giving constructive feedback can be a delicate process, and one that doesn’t come quite as easily as providing glowing, positive feedback. And rightly so.

We tend to respond much more strongly to negative events and feedback than we do to positive ones. Our feelings of being upset about receiving negative feedback is a lot more intense than our feelings of being happy at receiving positive feedback. In other words, employees react much more strongly to negative feedback than they do to positive feedback.

In fact, in a study done by University of Minnesota, it was found that people reacted to a negative interaction with their manager six times the intensity than they reacted to a positive one, to be precise. 

Is the negative feedback worth it? 

With this in mind, managers might want weigh up just how often and what things they choose to give negative feedback on. Picking up on every little thing can tip the delicate scales over into your employee feeling overly criticised and undervalued. This can very quickly spiral into a demotivated, disengaged and unproductive employee. 

Here are some great techniques for providing constructive feedback in a positive way, that focuses more on the key message and less on the specific faults of the individual. On a side note, this should always be provided in private. Giving negative feedback in a public forum is a form of shaming that can be extremely damaging to the recipient of the feedback, and will only amplify the negative effects of receiving the feedback. 

Techniques for delivering feedback

This is a great technique. I refer to it as the Out The Front Door technique. It’s a good way to keep your emotions from taking over and damaging relationships, when clear communication is required around touchy or sensitive subjects.

  1. O for Observe: Communicate your description or observation of the situation or the behaviour. Use words like “what I see is…” and “when x happens” and “this is the situation”. Keep the emotion out of the equation and state the facts without being accusation. The key is to try to remain neutral but factual. 
  2. T for Think: Communicate what you think about it “And I think that..”. Put a positive spin on what you think and keep it future- focussed. “I think we can do better next time”. “I think with a little improvement we can get a better result”. 
  3. F for Feel: Communicate what you feel about the situation or how the behaviour makes you feel. 
  4. D for Desire: Tell them what you desire or hope for “what I hope for is..”.  This is where you state your preferred outcome 

When the ‘Out the Front Door’ system is followed and the desired outcome is kept personal and free of emotions, your recipient will (hopefully) feel respected and valued and have a clear focus on how to improve for future outcomes. The aim is not to have them focussed on feeling ashamed or defensive about past actions, but guided on how to perform better moving forward. 

And of course, remember to balance it out. Tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work and a job well done, as often as possible. Try to make the positive feedback outweigh the negative. 

Getting your own feedback 

It’s also important to lead by example. As a leader you are less likely to receive feedback from your team on your ideas, performance, and the way you do things. After all, no one wants to criticize their boss and put themselves in the firing line, so it’s unlikely they will volunteer to give negative feedback unless it’s invited. And of course, without receiving constructive feedback yourself, you have no insight on what others think and feel about you and how you can do things better. So, how can you encourage people to give you feedback – truthful feedback that may not all be good? Here’s a good approach; 

  • Be vulnerable – Invite the feedback, as a means to help you learn and grow. Remind them that you make mistakes, just like everyone else and that they are welcome to let you know about them without fearing any negative backlash. Explain that you need their feedback to learn.
  • Keep it coming – create a culture where feedback is welcome on a constant basis, not just in a formal review setting. The more often it is given and received well, the easier it will be. 
  • Find a trusted few – Find a few who are confident to be honest with you. No matter how welcoming you make it, some people will feel too uncomfortable or worried to freely give you negative feedback. Finding a few trusted colleagues not scared on giving you honest feedback is useful. Alternatively create an anonymous platform to get feedback from everyone. Brace yourself for the feedback and remember to not take it personally, but use it to grow and learn. 

Negative feedback is necessary for reflection and growth. Do you have any great tips on how to give or receive feedback? I’d love to hear. Contact me on. I’d love to chat. 

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