Leadership might be easier if it were all about rallying the team, providing encouragement and delivering inspiring speeches. However, for better or worse,
being a leader also requires making difficult decisions and having challenging conversations. This includes telling your team when there are issues
of poor performance or inappropriate behaviour.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to make it easier to be the bearer of bad news. Here are four tips to help you better frame conversations
in which you are giving negative feedback.
1. Focus on the problem, not the person
When someone receives negative feedback, they often interpret it as a criticism or attack directed at them. Not surprisingly, this can make people defensive.
However, at its core, negative feedback is about a behaviour or action that needs to be changed or eliminated.
To make the recipient of your negative feedback more receptive and less defensive, make it clear from the start that the person is not the issue. This
will send the message that you are an ally, not an attacker: your aim is to work with the individual to tackle the problem together.
2. Don’t make it a big deal
When delivering negative feedback, it’s up to you to set the tone, and this will influence the response you receive. If you are clearly upset or stressed
out while giving the feedback, the person receiving it is likely to feel the same way.
To avoid this, focus on being objective rather than emotional. Imagine the different responses you’re likely to receive by raising an issue with one of
your team members using option 1 versus option 2:
- 1.“You did this, and now we’re facing a huge mess.”
- 2.“Mistakes are natural and can happen with anyone. This is what happened, and this is what we’re going to do about it.”
3. Keep the focus on solutions
Acknowledging a problem and analysing what went wrong is important, but dwelling on it doesn’t help anyone. This is good to keep in mind when giving negative
feedback. Once you’ve clearly established the problem that occurred, shift your focus from the past to the future.
The person to whom you are giving feedback is more likely to change their behaviour if you involve them in discussing solutions. What can be done better
or differently in the future? By identifying the desired outcomes, you can develop a clear plan for how the person can achieve them going forward.
4. Deliver it in person
Negative feedback can be uncomfortable both to give and receive, but avoiding it will only make things worse. If you want positive outcomes, it’s worth
the effort to give the feedback in person, one on one.
It can be tempting to shoot off an email or make a quick call to avoid the awkwardness of sharing criticism face to face. However, with this approach
it is too easy for the tone or meaning of your feedback to be misinterpreted.
When you’re delivering feedback in person, you can gauge and guide the emotions of the recipient. This direct approach will also help you show authentic
concern for the individual and encourage trust.
Giving negative feedback may be one of the less enjoyable aspects of leadership, but by following these four tips, you can make the process smoother and the outcomes better.