Ask a manager about the feedback he or she gives employees and you’re likely to get an answer followed by a qualifier! If the feedback is positive, it’s likely to be given promptly and enthusiastically. However, negative feedback is often treated very differently. Like most of us, managers don’t particularly enjoy communicating bad news. They fear offending the other person or having to deal with the recipient’s defensiveness. The result is that negative feedback is often avoided, delayed and substantially distorted. However, it is important for managers to provide both positive and negative feedback.
You can be more effective at providing feedback if you use the following six specific suggestions:
- Focus on specific behaviors
Feedback should be specific rather than general. Avoid such statements as “you have a bad attitude” or “I am really impressed with the good job you did”. They’re vague and although they provide information, they don’t tell the recipient enough to correct the “bad attitude” or on what basis you concluded that a “good job” had been done so the person knows what behaviors to repeat or to avoid.
- Keep feedback impersonal
Feedback, particularly the negative kind, should be descriptive rather than judgmental or evaluative. No matter how upset you are, keep the feedback focused on job-related behaviors and never criticize someone personally because of an inappropriate action.
- Keep feedback goal oriented
Feedback should not be given primarily to “unload” on another person. If you have to say something negative, make sure it’s directed toward the recipient’s goals. Ask yourself whom the feedback is supposed to help. If the answer is you, bite your tongue and hold the comment. Such feedback undermines your credibility and lessens the meaning and influence of future feedback.
- Make feedback well timed
Feedback is most meaningful to a recipient when there’s a very short interval between his or her behavior and the receipt of feedback about that behavior. Moreover, if you’re particularly concerned with changing behavior, delays in providing feedback on the undesirable action lessens the likelihood that the feedback will be effective in bringing about the desired change. Of course, making feedback prompt merely for the sake of promptness can backfire if you have insufficient information, if you’re angry, or if you’re otherwise emotionally upset. In such instance, “well timed” could mean “somewhat delayed.”
- Ensure understanding
Make sure your feedback is concise and complete so that the recipient clearly and fully understands your communication. It may help to have the recipient rephrase the content of your feedback to find out whether or not it fully captured the meaning you intended.
- Direct negative feedback toward behavior that the recipient can control
There’s little value in reminding a person of some shortcoming over which s/he has no control. Negative feedback should be directed at behavior that can do something about. In addition, when negative feedback is given concerning something that the recipient can control, it might be a good idea to indicate specifically what can be done to improve the situation.