Offering negative feedback, whether to an employee or a co-worker, can be a difficult task. The challenge lies in trying to convey your message in a way that not only achieves the desired change in behavior, but also reduces or even eliminates defensiveness in the other person. Ultimately, it all comes down to how you say what you need to say. And fortunately, there are many small modifications you can make in your language that will increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say and take positive action towards correcting the offending behaviour. One such small thing is to focus on facts, rather than opinions. For example, if I was to say to an employee “you’re disorganized,” it doesn’t tell the employee anything about what he or she needs to do or change in order to fix the problem, so the likelihood of a positive change occurring is low. However, if I was to change my language to “I have noticed that you are unable to find the files I need when I ask you for them,” I am now being specific by focusing on facts rather than an opinion, and this tells the person what he or she needs to do in order to produce the change in behavior I desire.
Now I’m not saying that just this one change in language will make a difference in outcome 100% of the time. But I am saying that the likelihood of getting a positive response will go up. In future blog posts over the upcoming months, I’ll offer other specific 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?