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Vinegar and Honey: The 3-Question Approach to Giving Negative Feedback

Delivering Effective Feedback
Feedback is essential to the process of doing great work. Without it, team members are left in the dark about how they’re doing… or worse, they are left to work from assumptions - and that is detrimental to the trust relationship between management and employees.

Providing effective feedback allows employees to adjust course to address the concerns at hand, and makes them feel encouraged to make those changes. It also helps gain employee ‘buy in’ on projects and tasks.

The thing is, feedback can be easy to give when employees are doing well, but when there are negative components of a message to be addressed, providing criticism can be challenging. Giving and receiving feedback is a delicate process that is often mismanaged. No surprise then, that a study shows people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time!

When providing feedback, positive or negative, first ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Do I know what it is I believe needs changing?
  2. What history does this team member have with this project and the organization?
  3. Is the feedback useful for the employee… or for me?

Do I know what it is I believe needs changing?

Talk to your team about issues to be addressed only when you are very clear about what it is that must be changed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to gain the information needed to provide adequate and effective feedback.

Feedback should be specific and prompt

Communicate exactly what needs to be changed and do so in a timely manner. Address issues as they arise instead of stockpiling them for a future one-to-one meeting. Discussing matters in real-time helps team members understand what they are doing that needs changing, instead of leaving them to guess what must be changed or under what circumstances those changes must be made.

What history does this team member have with this project and the organization?

What is the bigger picture… is the individual fully engaged or struggling to stay afloat? There may be underlying circumstances that cause a team member to behave in ways they otherwise would not. Be slow to reprimand and swift to understand. Start a dialogue with the team member in question to find out more about what is causing the unfavorable results that warrant feedback.

Is the feedback useful for the employee… or for me?

Are you coming from a place of genuine concern and desire to help? Or are you just trying to quell your own resentment? Here, self-reflection is key. When providing negative feedback, remember the old adage about winning more flies with honey than with vinegar. While your team members are no mere flies, your efforts to boost engagement and earn their trust should involve acknowledging the positive along with the negative. Preface your discussion of negative feedback with positive initiatives or traits of the team member, then segue into discussing what needs to be changed.

Feedback with facts

Provide feedback critical of the decision or project instead of attacking the individual (or their character). Stick to facts, show data that warrants your need for the conversation, and avoid making observations based on emotion.

Request feedback in return

Once feedback has been delivered, request the recipient to openly provide you with their feedback too. Feedback, like trust, is a two-way street that helps both parties work better.

Be purposeful and intentional with your feedback

Recognize that the purpose of feedback is to enlighten, encourage and correct as needed, not to berate or lessen your employees. End both positive and negative feedback discussions on an uplifting note by identifying something the employee is doing well. Starting and ending from a place of positivity will help your message get through effectively. Team members should leave a feedback discussion knowing what corrective actions or changes they must make, and feeling empowered to do so.

Asking yourself these 3 questions when providing feedback will help you create an atmosphere of trust and transparency within your team. It makes team members feel engaged and encouraged to do their best work, even when the feedback is negative because they understand that you’re genuinely trying to help.

How do you give and receive feedback from your team? Is there an approach to delivering feedback that has proven effective for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Productivity, Leadership, Communication

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