Article: 5 ways how you can 'sugarcoat' your negative feedback

Employee Relations

5 ways how you can 'sugarcoat' your negative feedback

Telling a team member, or a colleague, or even a subordinate that they need to buck up is a tough task. What can be done to ensure that the listener takes in it in the right spirit?
5 ways how you can 'sugarcoat' your negative feedback

Telling someone their work or performance is not at par is never an easy or comfortable conversation to have. Communicating to a team member or a colleague or even a junior that they need to buck up is a tough task. How do you make sure your communication doesn't affect adversely? How do you word your expression? What can be done to ensure that the listener takes it in the right spirit?

Mostly people shy away from giving negative feedback because it puts them in a fix. And rightly so. Since  such conversations end with unexpected results. The person could admit to some issues at work, or home, as the cause of distraction, or they could go defensive, and label your feedback as rude and unfair. The latter is problematic because this could offset the employee from the team and organisation, and starts viewing everything as a conspiracy. 

A study done in September 2015 showed that rudeness damages the ability to think and make decisions. The research was done with 24 medical teams, and when the researchers told the participants that they 'were not impressed with the quality of medicine' and pointed out other negative feedback, a 52% drop in the performance was witnessed. 

In such a scenario it becomes really important to make sure that feedback in question, specially negative feedback, is received by the employee in the right spirit. 

Here are some simple yet effective tips to ensure that negative feedback is given positively:

  1. The Sandwich Technique: Although it's utility and effectiveness is debatable, many people use it to get the message across.  The technique involves starting with a positive comment leading to critical comments, and eventually ending on a positive note. The technique is supposed to make the feedback fair and balanced. An example could be, “The report was a good attempt but you really need to work on using more visual elements and less text. The report is too lengthy to read and sentences can be re-structured. Correct all grammatical mistakes. With more experience you will do a much better job but right now there is a lot of scope for improvement.”

  2. The place and time: Do not save all the negative feedback for public meetings and all the positive feedback private ones.  Make sure recognition is given where deserved, and don’t be afraid to red flag potential problems just because you feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback. Ensure that these communications happen regularly, and are not liable to be brought out in the open only during the annual appraisal processes - foster your own feedback mechanisms - frequency and medium.

  3. Communicate outside of formal channels: Feedback pertaining to performance should not be restricted to emails and memos.  Performance reviews and email can only offer so much insight into what is going wrong. Fix a face to face meeting to elaborate on the issues that have been observed and be ready to offer help and guidance. It will be a futile exercise to evaluate an employee’s performance if all he/she is communicated is template-based reports.

  4. Offer alternatives: Merely stating that your performance is dropping over and over again will not fix the problem. You need to offer a handy solution to the problem. Try to understand why performance is slacking from their perspective and offer solutions to remove the obstacles identified.

  5. The tone matters: If you are having a bad day, don't give performance reviews or hold feedback meetings. Without realising, your tone might get aggressive or confrontational  which might do more harm than good. No matter what reaction you get, maintain your cool and stick to facts and documented evidence. Remember to be honest, not rude or mean.

To sum up, it is essential to have clear and objective communication with the concerned person, in an appreciative and secure environment. If the conversation get heated or confrontational, it might be best to do it another time.  The very concept of feedback is to improve the current situation and, if by any means, feedback evokes the negative reaction, it means you aren’t doing it as well as you could have. As a leader or a manager,  it is essential to convey constructive feedback in the right  manner  to optimise results, yet it is a technique that can be mastered over time.

How do you communicate negative feedback and ensure that it is taken in the right spirit? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Topics: Employee Relations, Executive Coaching

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