Deliver Feedback

Delivering feedback well is hard. Hold back on negative feedback when it is not necessary. Save it for times when it will genuinely help the person, or is required for performance management. If someone asks, pause to think about the delivery before launching into it.

There are great examples in books on emotional intelligence that give guidance on phrasing feedback in ways that are more constructive and less abrasive. You can dig deeper in especially sensitive situations and analyze communication styles to understand what may work best. There are short quizzes such as a “5-minute animal personality test,” in which you answer questions then are scored as some combination of a lion, beaver, otter, and golden retriever, with descriptions of each personality type, and receive tips on how to treat each type when giving or receiving feedback. These can be insightful done as short small-group exercises or can be done on your own.

Even with all the tools out there, this is a hard area to get right. It is worth putting effort into. For tough conversations, write out talking points and stick to them. Review with human resources or another trusted colleague in advance. Consider whether you are raising too many things in one meeting. Hold off on or forgo lower-priority items. It is hard for people to absorb a lot of negative feedback at once, so it may be best to focus on no more than a few points.

Hunan resource professionals give mixed advice on how often to give, and how to flow, negative feedback to employees. Some say try it in real time—right after a mistake at a meeting, offer a few quick words about what could have been done differently. Others say send an email to document the event and let the person digest the info privately. However you do it, it is important to be communicative. Do not let problems boil over without dialogue with the person about what is wrong.

Limit negative peer feedback. We read a blog post question from a young professional woman asking whether she should tell a coworker that her shoes were ugly. No, of course not. They are not ugly by any standard other than her personal opinion. Offering gratuitous negative feedback is not helpful. This logic applies to any unnecessary negative inputs at work. Stop yourself.

One of the best gentle coaching statements we have heard is “put down your shovel.” It signals that you are digging yourself into a hole without directly criticizing the behavior and encourages an immediate pivot.