If you have had any management training in the past couple of decades you have heard of the “feedback sandwich” – the idea that you can soften the blow of negative feedback by sandwiching it between to positive things. Please, I am really begging here, stop doing that! It causes confusion and only blurs the message you are trying to send. You can’t say “Good job. Bad job. Good job.” and expect someone to understand what you want from them. Instead, really praise people when they do a good job and be kind and honest when giving negative feedback.
Giving negative feedback kindly can be challenging. Here are a few tips to make it less painful for everyone involved:
Talk before you are frustrated – Too often we use subtle clues and hints to try to get someone to change because we don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation. If you are a team leader, manager or coach it is your responsibility to deal with your own discomfort and do what is best for your team members. Deal with it and have the conversation before you are annoyed.
Be clear about the problem – Now that you realize you need to have a conversation, avoid being vague or beating around the bush about the problem. Make sure you know exactly what he/she is doing that you want to stop. Giving feedback such as, “You aren’t enough of a team player” or “You don’t contribute enough in meetings” isn’t helpful. Instead be able to give measureable behaviors that need to change.
Share what you would like to see instead – Spewing a lot of “I’m just unhappy with you” isn’t going to lead to change. You need to be able to articulate what positive change looks like. If you are having a conversation with someone who is notoriously late for work, provide very specific guidelines such as “I need you to be at your desk and ready to work by 8:15.” If all you say is “You need to be on time” he or she may believe that pulling into the parking lot by 8:15 will meet your expectations; which will lead to more frustration and the need for another conversation.
Be respectful and kind – Being mean or hurtful when giving negative feedback is a key sign that you are not managing your emotions. Yes the conversation is uncomfortable. Sure you wish you didn’t have to have it. Put on your big boy or girl pants and figure it out! There is never a reason to take out your negative emotion on someone else. Being thoughtful about how you give feedback can go a long way to making the conversation productive.
Invest in training – Giving negative feedback and having tough conversations is part of being a leader. Doing it well is a learned skill. Too many leaders try to learn it through trial and error; damaging people along the way. Some never really learn how to do it. [Ask me sometime about the boss who was screaming he was going to fire everyone on the conference call in the middle of an outage – can you say not helpful?] Invest in your future by utilizing a coach or attending conflict resolution/management/leadership workshops. Your climb up the ladder will be easier and everyone you manage will thank you.
Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be painful for anyone involved. Let’s lose the feedback sandwich and really sink our teeth into the meat and potatoes of making a positive difference by having tough conversations founded on respect and dignity.
As always, I wish you the most from your potential!
Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is a nationally known motivational speaker, author and conflict resolution expert. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, coaches, parents, and faculty to help them achieve excellence in all aspects of life through the development of leadership, teamwork, effective communication, productive conflict and professional disagreement skills – strategies typically reserved for high-level corporate executive training. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the book Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams.
If you would like Doc Robyn to work with you or your team, call her: 732-421-5170