Have you ever been given negative feedback that after everything was done, you didn’t know exactly what actions you did were wrong or perceived as wrong and as a result didn’t know how to go about correcting the mistake that you apparently made even though you are honestly willing to do so?
If you answered yes, like most of us, you have been the victim of poorly delivered negative feedback. When feedback is not given well, it stands the chance of causing more harm than good. It can hurt the person receiving instead of empowering them to make positive change.
Below, I share five ingredients of an effective negative feedback. If you include these ingredients in your feedback, you will leave an impact on the people you mentor, coach or try to help when you give them negative feedback.
An adaptation of a common goal setting mnemonic, S.M.A.R.T to feedback will help us deliver effective feedback.
Feedback should be:
S-Specific & Detailed. All feedback should be specific and detailed. Don’t be general. Give details of specific situations and events that happened, how the person acted poorly, and how they might have acted correctly. A negative feedback that is general is useless. If you and I want to be good agents of positive change in others, we must invest the time to give feedback that has the chance of helping them. If we don’t remember specific events, perhaps this is not the right time to deal with the issue. In some cases, there may really not be an important issue worth giving negative feedback about if we can’t remember it.
M-Motivating & Measurable. Every negative thing can be rephrased in a way that gives dignity to the person, lifts them up, lets him know that correcting the inadequacy would just take his game from where it is to an even higher level. When giving negative feedback, see the glass as half full, not half empty. Better yet, see the glass as 95% full, not 5% empty.
A-Actionable & Attainable. Before we give feedback to someone that is negative, we need to be able to see, not from our point of view but their point of view that the feedback is actionable and attainable. We need to make sure that they can do something specific about it to make the change that needs to be made. And that they can do it, that it’s not an impossible task for them at the moment.
R-Relational and relevant. Good feedback needs to be focused on the relationship. It needs to affirm the person and let him know that you value your relationship with that person and that that is the source of the feedback and that you are willing to work with them to help them. It also needs to be relevant to your relationship with the person. For example, don’t give someone negative feedback on how to raise his kids when he is working for you as an accountant.
T-Timely & Time-bound. Give feedback in a timely fashion, as close to the incident as much as possible. Also, work with the person to set up a goal time frame to make the corrections necessary.
Here is how I advise people to view themselves when they give feedback. View yourself as a doctor and your negative feedback is your diagnosis. And realize that sometimes, when you give that negative feedback, the person is not even aware of it. It’s like a doctor telling an unsuspecting patient that he has a certain disease. In that case, you need to have all the information necessary to answer that person’s questions. You need to know the specifics, not just the generalities of the matter.
Then you need to also have a treatment plan and suggest it to your patient. A plan of how you both could work together to help take care of the disease. We can’t simply tell people they have something negative and leave it up to them to figure out how to solve the problem. If we have the authority to speak to them about the negative feedback, then we must also have the wisdom and love to work with them until they have resolved the matter.