Merge's Blog

Giving negative feedback: stay future-focused

If you’re in a position of formal leadership, then one of your responsibilities at some point or another, like it or not, will be to give negative feedback to an employee.  And it’s a task that no one looks forward to.  Let’s face it: people’s natural reaction to criticism is defensiveness, and when that happens, getting your message across becomes even more difficult.  So your goal in giving negative feedback is to convey your message in a way that not only achieves the desired behavior change, but also reduces or eliminates the likelihood of the other person getting their back up.  Ultimately, it all comes down to how you put your thoughts into words.  Last October, I told you about one small modification that you could make in your language to achieve accomplish this – focus on facts instead of opinions.  Here’s another adjustment you can make to increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say and take positive action towards correcting the offending behavior – stay future-focused.  If you were to say to an employee “you’ve been late three times this week,” the conversation will quickly bog down into specifics – which day was the employee late, by how much, and of course a litany of excuses why.  Far better to head that off quickly by following it up with “I realize that you may have very good reasons for your tardiness this week, but I’d like to focus on what you and I are going to do to prevent it from happening again.”  Force the conversation towards the future rather than the past.  Even if you do end up talking about the past, make sure that the discussion does not conclude until you have talked specifically about behavior change in the future.

Now this one change in language isn’t going to magically make these negative feedback discussions effortless.  But it will move you in the right direction.  In future blog posts, I’ll share some more ideas.  But for now, I’d like to hear yours.  What are some of the specific things you say or do to increase that likelihood that the feedback you offer to others is heard and acted upon?

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