negative feedbackThere is plenty of discussion about negative feedback, and why not? While we have all gotten plenty of it, it isn’t often very effective. And since it isn’t effective, leaders and coaches are always looking for ways to give it more effectively. While there is plenty of good advice about how to do it, there’s far less conversation about when to give negative feedback. As it turns out, when is a huge part of the equation.

The Goal of Feedback

Remember that the goal of feedback is (at least it should be) for the receiver to accept and apply the feedback. In the case of negative feedback, that means they need to hear about/be aware of something they did wrong or could do better and understand it first. Until they hear and understand it, there is no chance they will accept and apply it.

Given this reminder of the goal, if we want negative feedback to be accepted and applied by the other person, we must start with them, not the situation or the specific feedback.

A Quick Story

That makes sense but isn’t how it often goes. Imagine this situation…

You are a parent and one of your children does something wrong, let’s say they broke something. You’re angry, and so you give them some “feedback.” You tell them they need to be more careful; you tell them you are disappointed; you tell them <insert your own messages>. And, because you are angry, you might give that feedback in a raised voice and with angry body language.

How successfully will that feedback be received? Could it have been done in a more effective way?

I do not need to imagine this story, because as a parent, I did something like this far more often than I would like to admit. Here is what else I can admit – it wasn’t effective feedback by nearly any measure. I might have been right, and justified, but the feedback just isn’t effective, and I ran the risk of damaging my relationship with my child.

Since that isn’t the best way to go about giving negative feedback, how can we make it better as a parent, spouse, teammate, or leader? Here are some ideas.

Think About the Giver

Focus less on what went wrong or needs to be corrected and more on the person you need to give the feedback to.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they realize the error, or that they could have done it differently/better?
  • Are they upset, embarrassed, or are they otherwise not yet ready to receive the feedback?
  • Do they have time to hear it now?
  • How and when can you deliver this in a way that they will best understand and accept it?

When we stop to think about the receiver, we will make better decisions about when and how to give any negative feedback.

Think About You

Let’s look back at the story above. As the giver, you were angry (I know I was).  When we are angry, are we likely to give the feedback in a clear, measured, and balanced way?  In other words, are we ready to be effective in giving that negative feedback?

Not so much.

So here are some questions for you to ask about yourself before giving negative feedback.

  • Am I emotionally ready to give the feedback now?
  • Do I have time to do it effectively?
  • Does it even have to be done right now?
  • What are they doing well – do they need to hear that at this time too?

To crystalize what we have just talked about, consider this advice when giving negative feedback:

Give negative feedback when you are ready and able to give it successfully, and they are ready and able to receive it successfully. Don’t give in in the moment unless it creates an immediate safety concern. While feedback needs to be timely, that doesn’t usually mean giving it immediately.

When you apply this advice, chances are the negative feedback you give will be far more effective and will improve your relationship and the trust between you and the receiver.

What more could you ask for?

Giving feedback successfully is more than a leadership skill, it is a life skill. If you want to build your competence and confidence in this important skill, there’s a masterclass on it! We created the Giving Feedback Successfully Masterclass precisely because this skill is so important to creating better results, as well as building trust and relationships. Learn more about this powerful learning experience that you can access from any device at any time.

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