“Feedback is a gift.” It’s a quote attributed to Jim Trinka and Les Wallace, but it rings true in the world of business.
If you’re the one giving feedback, however, it might not feel like a gift – especially if the feedback you have to give is negative. When that happens, it probably feels less like a gift and more like a chore. How do you give negative feedback without it coming off as cruel or unfair?
It’s true, sometimes such criticism can veer off into the realm of being mean-spirited or cutting sarcasm. Maybe even bullying. You don’t want that, so it’s important to think of your words carefully before saying them.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to give feedback.
When giving negative feedback, it’s important not to come off as accusatory. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they didn’t mean to do whatever it was that they did. Don’t excuse their behavior or pretend that it’s nothing, but don’t act as though it’s the end of the world, either.
Try coming at it in the spirit of productivity. Let the focus of your message be how they can improve, not what they did wrong. Your aim should be to fix the problem, not berate the person for causing it in the first place.
Another good approach is to add in some positive feedback while giving negative feedback. Instead of just saying, “I don’t like this brand of coffee,” say, “I like that you make coffee first thing in the morning. I don’t particularly like the brand of coffee because it’s bitter so we might try another brand. But I love that you offer flavored creamer!”
The most important thing to remember is that the person you’re talking to is just that – a person. And people are bound to make mistakes sometimes. Of course you feel strongly about the success of your company, but chances are, so do they. Try not to get too wrapped up in your emotions, so that you can remember that they have feelings, too.
The next time you have to give negative feedback, remember how the person on the other end may feel. We could all benefit from more gentleness, kindness and civility.
~ Sue Voyles