The 12 rules for giving negative feedback, according to experts
Feedback, both positive and negative, is an essential part of managing employees. Image: Gonzalo Aragon/Shutterstock

The 12 rules for giving negative feedback, according to experts

19 Jan 2018

Need some advice in giving negative feedback?

Giving feedback (especially negative feedback) is a vital component of being an effective people manager. But it’s so easy to get it wrong.

Unsurprisingly so, because, in giving negative feedback, you’re wading into extremely delicate territory.

Most people understand objectively that feedback serves an important purpose in career progression, and that opting to give negative feedback is a way of fostering your employee’s development, but that doesn’t prevent the potential psychological stress.

Ultimately, you’re telling someone they did something wrong, and no one really likes to be told they are doing a less-than-perfect job, particularly in such a high-stakes setting as the woprkplace. Emotions can often run high when critique gets tied into one’s livelihood.

Headway Capital has addressed this head-on by compiling a handy infographic, offering negative feedback dos and don’ts backed by research, as well as busting a number of classic feedback ‘myths’.

One such myth that gets thoroughly debunked is the ever-popular ‘sandwiching’ approach, in which a manager sandwiches critique between two compliments. In theory, it seems like an ideal way to proceed – begin and end with a positive statement, making positivity the enduring sentiment in the employee’s mind – but anyone who has received negative feedback knows that it never works out that way.

According to Roger Schwarz, a leadership consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the industry, ‘sandwiching’ undermines your feedback and engenders distrust in your employees. If you think about the approach for long enough, it becomes readily apparent that this would happen.

We tend to put an inordinate amount of focus on the negative aspect of any interaction, so it’s going to stick out in someone’s mind no matter what you do.

Additionally, once the ‘sandwich’ has been completed, an employee will recognise that your positive feedback was only really serving as a buffer. This ulterior motive for praise makes it feel disingenuous.

The best approach is to be direct, as anything less than that will not make your employee feel respected. You could also ask your employees for feedback on how you gave your feedback, which will go a long way to lessening the effect of the power imbalance inherent in any manager-employee interaction.

For some more advice on giving negative feedback, check out the infographic below.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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