How To Comfortably Deliver Negative Feedback

80% of leaders do not like to deliver negative feedback.This is what I found from an informal poll of leaders that I have worked with. This included both mid-level and C-suite leaders. A more rigorous study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman [1], puts that number closer to 70%.


Being Coached

What makes it difficult for us to deliver negative feedback? One reason leaders commonly mention is that they are concerned their feedback would be received badly. Ironically, when asked whether they personally take negative feedback badly, about 90% of the leaders claimed they did not. In other words, leaders feel that their team members’ ability to accept negative feedback is lower than their own.

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If we put aside the assumption regarding receiving feedback badly, what other reason makes it difficult for leaders to deliver negative feedback?

Many of the leaders that I work with admit that they feel uncomfortable when they deliver negative feedback. Some leaders, found it distasteful and mildly stressful, whereas a fairly large number found it moderately to very stressful. And the reasons for this discomfort are often unique to each leader – depending on their own values, beliefs, assumptions and skill.

To feel comfortable delivering negative feedback, the leader should start by examining the source of his/her discomfort. You need to understand which of your values, beliefs or life-experiences makes it difficult for you. Once you are aware, you can work on examining and changing your perspective to make it easier. Sometimes, working with a professional coach makes this easier.

Secondly, examine your reasons for providing negative feedback. If you can reframe your feedback – to focus on a desired positive outcome rather than a problem that needs fixing (or worse – a person that needs fixing!) , you will find it easier to give feedback – and the recipient will find it easier to accept.

Third, focus on how you deliver your message. Corrective feedback often requires delivering a tough message. However, there is no reason why this message cannot be delivered in a polite, non-threatening and respectful way.

Do you find providing negative feedback difficult and stressful? What steps are you taking to understand the factors that make it difficult? What has worked for you in becoming more comfortable at this important task?

Reference: Zenger, Jack and Folkman, Joseph; The Assumptions That Make Giving Tough Feedback Even Tougher; (accessed 26 May 2016)

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Narayan Kamath

I'm a Leadership Coach and Mentor. I help successful leaders take their leadership to the next level. My mission is to make positive and significant impact in the lives of at least 100,000 people by 2020 - by helping them unleash their true potential to achieve greater success and fulfilment - at work, and in life.

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