Leadership means doing things that are hard, even (and especially) when we don’t want to do them.
One of the hard things people hate to do is give negative feedback. We hate saying it, we hate seeing the look on their face when we say it, and we hate hearing the undertones of crushed ego in their voice when they respond. The problem is, negative feedback – or constructive criticism – is for most people the fastest and most effective route to improvement. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, how can we fix it?
Our Employees Actually Want Negative Feedback
A recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog lays this out pretty clearly in its title: Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give. Based on data collected from an assessment by leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman, “people want corrective feedback…even more than praise, if it’s provided in a constructive manner.”
The key here is the word “constructive.” No one wants to be criticized or reviewed poorly without a roadmap to improvement. That’s where strong leadership comes in. It’s part of a leader’s job to place constructive feedback within a context of support and development, rather than blame and disappointment. Clarifying expectations and showing employees what they could do to improve keeps everyone on the same page and sets the stage for better performance.
But, Be Sensitive
The HBR article also points out that the desire for constructive feedback increases with respondent confidence. A more confident employee will more readily accept negative feedback – and even seek it out – than will a less confident employee. This is also where good management can make a big difference. Great managers will work to develop confidence in their less self-assured employees by maintaining sensitivity to their needs and balancing constructive feedback with praise. Building a relationship with your employees takes time, and good managers will be patient and observant to the needs and personalities of their direct reports and adjust accordingly.
Don’t Let Head Trash Talk You Out of It
Now, if we return to the idea of hating giving feedback, we can see it’s mostly a matter of head trash. Negative feedback has a bad reputation, and along with that comes fear on the part of managers and employees that the feedback conversation will be painful and awkward. As with all head trash, you need to acknowledge it and let it go. Research shows negative feedback works, and is appreciated by employees. As long as you approach feedback constructively and with sensitivity to your individual employees, the conversation will be productive and effective.