This is an excellent Harvard Review article, by Robert C Poven, about how careful you need to be when giving feedback to employees. https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-delicate-art-of-giving-fee
It’s a cliche, but feedback is a gift – when given constructively and with positive intent. And especially, it seems, when it is positive feedback. It’s not difficult to give positive praise, although I agree with the author that it is not given often enough. Giving negative feedback can also be a gift, but when given badly or unnecessarily it can often achieve the exact opposite of what the feedback-giver is hoping to accomplish – de-motivation, resentment, low morale and lower productivity.
What I enjoyed about this article is that it frees us from the increasingly common notion in my experience that we must always give the negative feedback and more of it! The author refers to a study, carried out several years ago at the University of Minnesota, that showed that employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction with their boss (in the same way that we would react far more strongly emotionally to losing £100 than winning £100).
What this tells us is that managers really need to understand how and when to give negative feedback. As Poven says:
- Managers need to, firstly, avoid inadvertently criticising an employee’s work if what they have done is good. They should make clear that their revisions are suggestions only and not criticisms.
- Secondly, and very importantly, managers need to ‘weigh the trade-offs involved in making negative feedback’. You will undoubtedly be making some correct points in your feedback, but it will reduce your employee’s morale. As such, if the issue in hand is actually pretty unimportant in the scale of things, is it really worth making those points? Does the corrective value of the feedback outweigh the negative impact of giving it on your employee’s mood? If the answer is probably not, Pozen’s simple message is to keep the feedback to yourself.
This, of course, doesn’t give us licence to avoid giving all negative feedback! The message to managers still remains that if you have feedback to give that will genuinely improve an employee’s performance (and so the business’) then do give it, but it in an effective way. And that is a blog for another day…
Do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like some help with learning how and when to give employee feedback. We offer group and one to one training in this and many other essential management skills.