Boss Lady

The 12 rules of giving negative feedback: infographic


If we lived in an ideal world, business would always be booming, your team would keep on delivering, and everyone would always be happy. Unfortunately, real life usually intervenes, and employees make mistakes or see their performance dip for any number of reasons. This has a direct effect on business, which can start a vicious circle with morale and performance if not arrested.

But if mistakes and dips are themselves inevitable, and every team member brings their flaws – charming or otherwise – to the outfit, what can you do to face up to this harsh reality – and turn it to your advantage?

One of the best steps you can take is to look closely at your company’s feedback culture. This is the everyday politics and flow of criticism, encouragement and idea-sharing. In an age of office ping-pong tables and bring your dog to work days, office culture can often be fluffy and lovely. But while fluffiness, loveliness, and special guest dogs certainly have their place, failing to directly acknowledge and deal with problems can lead to the same mistakes being made again and again.

If you don’t have a regular feedback meeting with your team, you need to start one. And you need to be clear from day one that while all criticism should be constructive, that doesn’t mean it should all be positive. Talk about why negative feedback is necessary and the best ways of giving and receiving it, and you will start to acclimatize your crew to a new atmosphere of openness.

It may take a while for these meetings to warm up. Every company is different, and the precise chemistry of your team may need a while to balance while everyone gets used to the feedback process. You can start by giving feedback to the team as a whole, and gradually introduce individual critiques. Be careful to keep matters of performance and matters of pay and promotion separate, particularly in group meetings. These latter issues are directly connected to an individual’s welfare and as such can be highly sensitive and personal topics.

Try instead to discuss the feedback in the context of specific briefs, techniques, and targets. Using quantitative measures can prevent negative feedback from feeling over-personal to the recipient. Sharing specific techniques and approaches can help you to learn together, and to describe direct actions that can be used to avoid the same old mistakes recurring. Using briefs and examples ensures that you’re not criticizing a person’s own characteristics, but rather their behavior in regard to a particular set of circumstances; it also means that you can illustrate your points, rather than talking about vague principals which may be misunderstood by the recipient.

Being specific forces you to think deeply about the feedback you’re giving. For example, you may default to offering a piece of positive feedback for every negative feedback you give. This sounds like a good idea to balance your criticism, but if you pull the positive feedback out of thin air for the sake of it, your employees will recognize it for what it is and lose trust in your feedback in general.

Feedback sessions should be omni-directional. Everybody should give feedback on themselves and on others. In fact, the best way to start is to ask for your employees to prepare a self-review. Allowing this moment of introspection and confession can mean that they identify the negative feedback before you even give it. Perhaps they are already aware of it, or will notice it once they actually think about it. That way, their will to improve comes from within. And even if they don’t themselves pick up on the specific point you want to make, the self-review process will awaken their critical faculties and make them more receptive to your negative feedback when it comes.

This omni-directional approach includes you. Be prepared to listen to explanations and ideas and to change your mind or your approach if appropriate. Don’t just talk at your team: ask questions, probe, and encourage discussion. If there is a disagreement among your staff, keep the peace but do not settle the argument yourself: rather, help them to solve it together. In the long run, this will deepen your team’s bonds and the meaningfulness of the solutions that you find.

At the end of the feedback session, you should encourage your employees to give you feedback on your feedback. Make sure that you have been understood, that you have understood them, and that they know how best to proceed. If you are having trouble encouraging them to speak up (who wants to criticize their own boss?) you can instead use a number system (rating the clarity of your feedback with marks out of ten) or use Google Forms to offer an anonymous feedback portal.

This new infographic from Headway Capital provides a 12-step guide to instituting your new feedback culture. Your business may not be perfect, but if you’re ready to learn from mistakes then it has a lot of potential.

The 12 rules of giving negative feedback: infographic

About John Cole

John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

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