Done properly, negative – or as I prefer to call it, constructive – feedback can have a positive effect, helping to improve performance, productivity and motivation. Nonetheless, giving (and receiving) negative feedback is something most people find awkward. Even worse, if it’s not done carefully, it can have a very detrimental effect on the employee’s engagement and performance.
In this article, I look at practical ways to make the situation a lot less uncomfortable and a lot more positive.
Organisational culture is key
Yes, there are practical ways to deliver constructive feedback effectively, and we’ll get to those next. But first, it’s important to note that the overall culture within the organisation plays a significant role in how feedback is received.
Everyone at every level of a business has things they want to get better at. How many people do you know who don’t want to get better at their job? I certainly do. The beauty of constructive feedback is that it helps us identify those areas for development and find ways to improve our performance.
Therefore, the best kind of company culture is one where negative feedback is seen as something positive. A culture where self-evaluation and self-awareness thrives, and people actively seek out opportunities to learn and grow. In order to achieve this, the business needs to cultivate a supportive environment where people are encouraged and helped to learn.
In practical terms, a good performance management culture means regular conversations between managers and their direct reports. An annual performance conversation just won’t cut it. It needs to be at least monthly, but ideally weekly. Some weeks that might mean a quick “everything’s ticking along fine” conversation. Some weeks are an opportunity to give praise when things are going brilliantly. And some weeks, when things haven’t gone so well, it means looking at what can be done differently in future.
Regular pulse surveys will also help to foster a culture of continuous feedback, where everyone is generally more aware and able to identify opportunities to do better.
How to deliver constructive feedback
The best way to give negative feedback is to have a supportive conversation – you know, like normal human beings. On paper that sounds easy. But in practice, fear, anxiety and just general awkwardness can make that conversation a lot more difficult.
The following steps will help strip the awkwardness away, so you can deliver negative feedback in a more constructive, positive way:
Receiving negative feedback
The flip side of giving feedback is inviting and accepting feedback in return. You may be a manager or HR professional who has mastered the art of giving negative feedback, but when a colleague or direct report gives you some honest feedback in return, your reaction might surprise you!
If you really believe giving constructive feedback helps your people to improve their performance, then this is a great opportunity to practise what you preach. So, rather than taking it personally or getting defensive, try these steps instead:
By following these steps and encouraging a culture of continuous feedback, you can remove the fear and awkwardness from negative feedback and treat it as the positive opportunity it really is.
Where to go from here
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Bernard Marr is an internationally bestselling author, futurist, keynote speaker, and strategic advisor to companies and governments. He advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations on strategy, digital transformation and business performance. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK. He has authored 16 best-selling books, is a frequent contributor to the World Economic Forum and writes a regular column for Forbes. Every day Bernard actively engages his almost 2 million social media followers and shares content that reaches millions of readers.