The purposes of this article are to show you the importance of providing both positive and negative feedback and to identify specific techniques to help make your feedback more effective.
Positive Versus Negative Feedback
Positive feedback is more readily and accurately perceived than negative feedback. Furthermore, while positive feedback is almost always accepted, negative feedback often meets resistance. Why? The logical answer seems to be that people want to hear good news and block out the bad. Positive feedback fits what most people wish to hear and already believe about themselves.
Does this mean that you should avoid giving negative feedback? No! What it means is that you need to be aware of potential resistance and learn to use negative feedback in situations in which it's most likely to be accepted. What are those situations? Research indicates that negative feedback is most likely to be accepted when it comes from a credible source or if it's objective in form.
Subjective impressions carry weight only when they come from a person with high status and credibility. This suggests that negative feedback that's supported by hard data?numbers, specific examples, and the like?is more likely to be accepted. Negative feedback that's subjective can be a meaningful tool for experienced managers, particularly those in upper levels of the organization who've earned the respect of their employees. From less-experienced managers, those in the lower ranks of the organization, and those whose reputations haven't yet been established, negative feedback that's subjective in nature is not likely to be well received.
Developing Effective Feedback Skills
There are six specific suggestions that we can make to help you be more effective in providing feedback.
Focus on Specific Behaviors. Feedback should be specific rather than general. Avoid such statements as "You have a bad attitude" or "I'm really impressed with the good job you did," They're vague and while they provide information, they don't tell the recipient enough to correct the "bad attitude" or on what basis you concluded that a "good job" had been done so the person knows what behaviors to repeat.
Keep Feedback Impersonal. Feedback, particularly the negative kind, should be descriptive rather than judgmental or evaluative. No matter how upset you are, keep the feedback focused on job-related behaviors and never criticize someone personally because of an inappropriate action. Telling people they're "incompetent," or "lazy," or the like is almost always counterproductive. It provokes such an emotional reaction that the performance deviation itself is apt to be overlooked. When you're criticizing, remember that you're censuring a job-related behavior, not the person.
Keep Feedback Goal Oriented. Feedback should not be given primarily to "dump" or "unload" on another person. If you have to say something negative, make sure it's directed toward the recipient's goals. Ask yourself whom the feedback is supposed to help.
Make Feedback Well Timed. Feedback is most meaningful to a recipient when there's a very short interval between his or her behavior and the receipt of feedback about that behavior.
Ensure Understanding. Is your feedback concise and complete enough that the recipient clearly and fully understands your communication? Remember that every successful communication requires both transference and understanding of meaning. If feedback is to be effective, you need to ensure that the recipient understands it.
Direct Negative Feedback Toward Behavior That the Recipient Can Control. There's little value in reminding a person of some shortcoming over which he or she has no control. Negative feedback should be directed toward behavior the recipient can do something about.