My co-worker recently said to me, “Giving negative feedback is a disaster, it’s just not possible.” The frustration in her voice was clear. She was really concerned about damaging her relationships by being too direct. Hurting someone’s feelings is usually what keeps us from making suggestions for improvement.
On the other hand, if we don’t help people see where they could improve, they can’t get better and neither can your team or organization. While people may not want to hear negative feedback, most people do want to know what they can do to improve their performance and get ahead. If your choices are to give negative feedback and evoke defensiveness, or say nothing and put up with whatever isn’t working, I would prefer that you give the feedback, believing that it empowers growth and improvement. The question is how to do it effectively?
I recommend starting by setting expectations that you will give, and want to receive, balanced (positive and negative) feedback regularly. Simply say, “I realize we don’t give each other a lot of feedback, but it is a great way to help each other improve. I would like to add it to our weekly check-ins. Are you up for that?”
Be sure to give plenty of positive feedback so people know they are appreciated and aren’t solely focused on the negative feedback they receive. It is also important that you are receptive to feedback. When you react positively to their feedback, you earn the right to give feedback. When they realize that there are no negative consequences to receiving suggestions for improvement, they will slowly come to accept your comments.
Lastly, remember how hard it is to hear negative feedback. People tend to question their skills, pull back emotionally, and play it safe. Tread lightly and pick your battles. Only address what you really need to and say things kindly remembering that everyone is sensitive.
Giving feedback does not have to be a disaster. It really is an opportunity to support another person and strengthen a relationship when you come from a place of care and support.