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How to Give and Receive Negative Feedback Constructively

Negative feedback can be daunting to give and to receive. But there are ways to make the experience less traumatic for both parties.

Negative feedback can be daunting for both the receiver and the giver. But there are ways to make the experience less traumatic and more constructive.

First, we'll look at the basics of giving negative feedback constructively and them move on to the basics of recieving and dealing with it if you find yourself on the receiving end.

Giving negative feedback

Make it clear the feedback is on someone’s work, not their personality.

Don’t criticise someone’s personality. If the negative feedback is about someone’s behaviour, don’t focus on the behaviour itself. Instead, talk about how the behaviour affects their effectiveness. If possible suggest possible behavioural tweaks that can be made to achieve different outcomes.

Be specific.

Don’t be vague or generalise. It’s important to be specific. Explain what went wrong, what were the consequences, what should have been done. Even when the feedback is about someone's behaviour, you should point to specific examples. Never start with, 'Your behaviour...' Instead you should say, 'When you... then insert event, date, what happened, what impact it had, etc'

Never start with the positive and then add "but".

That is the worst thing you can do. Remember, every time someone says something and add a "but", it signals that what comes after the "but" is more important. That’s just how our brains process information. Take the following statements for examples:

I love you but…..’.

You have the right qualifications but….’

I was going to come but…’.

You get the idea. Those sentences never end with something positive. It is important therefore to have the negative feedback discussion first and conclude it before you move on to the positives. You will find that in most cases there will be aspects of the positives that can be used as building blocks for rectifying the negatives.

Suggest clear path for improvement and offer support.

It is important to articulate what improvement will be expected, when, and how it will be assessed. Also offer to provide all the needed support to achieve the improvement targets.

Receiving negative feedback

Expect it.

Take negative feedback as a pointer to things you need to improve. After all, no one is perfect. This is a very important point. Disappointment is a product of our expectations. So when you expect negative/constructive feedback you will not be surprised nor upset when you receive it. Instead you will seek to understand and to improve.

Don’t assume someone is out to get you.

In most cases, feedback is not personal. Feedback is usually, or should be, about your work not personality. Constructive criticism means someone cares enough. And if it comes across as personal, which happens sometimes, use the discussion as an opportunity to build a relationship with the person giving the feedback, usually your line manager.

Don’t challenge.

Ask for clarity. Instead of being defensive, which unfortunately can be our default reaction, you must ask for clear explanation. Ask your manager to explain what went wrong, what were the consequences, and what should have been done.

Ask for help.

Don’t hesitate to ask your manager for help and support. You could even ask her/him to recommend a mentor that can help you get to the desired level of performance. Asking for help signals maturity and makes your boss know that you trust them to lead the way. That will foster a stronger and more open relationship in the long run


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