How to Deliver Negative Feedback

Patrick shrugged. “I have tried that sandwich thing where I start with something positive, then criticize the person, then end with something positive. But, my team knows I am making up the positive parts just so I can slide in the criticism. They are smart. They know the game. Sometimes, it just makes the person angrier.”

“Is it necessary for a manager to give a team member negative feedback?” I asked.

“Absolutely. If someone continues to do something wrong, they could develop a bad habit, hard to break. There may be a safety consideration. Even if it just wastes time, the team member needs to know,” Patrick replied.

“So, let’s talk about words. You and I understand the intent of negative feedback, and we have to find the words. Words mean things. I want to change the pronoun. Criticism uses the pronoun you.

  • You didn’t do that right.
  • If you would do it this way, it would be better.

“To a rebellious child (state of mind), you sounds like a critical parent. Even if it is a statement of fact or said in a nurturing tone of voice, you sounds like a critical parent and invites more rebellion.

“I want to change the pronoun to I.

  • I need help with this.
  • I am seeing this process a different way.
  • I want to speed things up here.
  • I would like to change this.
  • In what way can we make this better?

“This one simple change invites a different person into the conversation. Do you know why?”

2 thoughts on “How to Deliver Negative Feedback

  1. Pingback: Feedback | the business dude

  2. drdebbright

    Dear Tom,

    Well, you are on your way toward understanding criticism. I’m glad you are at least calling negative feedback what it is- criticism. Not only is criticism necessary, it is inevitable.

    When it comes to the art of delivering quality criticism or the kind of criticism that is intended to be helpful, it is important to recognize that it’s a skill. The “sandwich thing” you’ve tried only further exemplifies that it’s a skill. Even though that approach has gained popularity, it doesn’t always mean that it is an effective skill.

    As you indicated, word choice is an important consideration. Using “you” when delivering criticism frequently shifts the focus from the issue at hand to the person causing the receiver to question the giver’s intent.

    When it comes to using the pronoun “I”- be cautious. If you are searching for how best to manage the message, try using third person. It keeps the conversation more matter of fact and less of a win-lose proposition. After all, it’s not a competitive exchange of who’s right and who’s wrong.

    A perspective worth considering as it relates to developing one’s skill in the handling of quality criticism is where did we learn how to deliver criticism, how old is it, and can we rely on the information we have learned to give us consistent results?


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