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How to Give Constructive Feedback and Avoid Ugly Confrontations

How to Give Constructive Feedback and Avoid Ugly Confrontations

“You’ve been doing a fantastic job, but, there’s just one thing….”

Many of us dread these words and what follows next. It’s only natural to feel this way because giving and/or receiving criticism can be daunting. Feedback has the potential to either encourage people to do better or totally demoralize them, so it’s important that you remain calm and optimistic when giving or receiving it.

According to a research paper published in The Journal of Consumer Research titled “Tell Me What I did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback,” many people often forget the purpose of feedback. It’s not meant to make people feel bad, but rather to help people DO better. Negative feedback is not always bad, and positive feedback is not always good.

If you want to encourage people to do better and become the best they can be, you need to learn how to give constructive evaluations. Encouraging others also helps you achieve more in your own personal and business life. Here are some handy tips you can use to give more constructive feedback and encourage others instead of demoralizing them.

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1.   Remind yourself why you are giving feedback

Before you approach someone to give an evaluation, remind yourself why you are doing it. You goal is to help others improve performance or a situation. If you are rushed, overly critical, or unsure of yourself, you won’t accomplish your purpose.

Step back and analyze your reasons for wanting to give feedback. Build up a positive outlook and positive approach that is focused on improvement: this is important because a positive approach often gets more from people.

You don’t always have to be positive, though; a little negativity and controlled anger can be useful when used sparingly, especially when people are not paying sufficient attention to what you are saying.

2.   Create a comfortable environment to talk

According to neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner from Columbia University, who was citing research done at the university, people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time. If the person you are talking to doesn’t feel comfortable, the effectiveness of your communication drops and ultimately becomes unproductive.

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Find somewhere safe to talk where you won’t be overheard or interrupted. Start the talk with something positive and then move on to an open, objective assessment. Help the other person “see” where there is a need for improvement and offer practical solutions to bring about desired change.

3.   Observe time

Feedback is not about surprising people or getting people off guard; it’s about telling people what they need to hear when they are most likely expecting to hear it. The effectiveness of your communication increases when it is given closer to the time the event or issue being addressed happened.

Congratulate people for a job well done as soon as the job is done. In the same way, address issues of none performance sooner rather than later. Don’t wait a whole year for problems to pile up before you address them—it’s easier for everyone involved when feedback is given in a timely manner.

The exception to this rule is if the situation in question is highly emotional. Wait for everyone to calm down first before you approach them for a candid talk, thus avoiding potentially ugly confrontations with people.

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4.   Focus on one specific issue

People generally respond better to an evaluation or performance appraisal when it is focused directly on a specific issue and delivered with a positive slant. Avoid discussing more than two issues in a single appraisal session, because doing so risks the other person feeling attacked. Focus more on one (or at most, two) priority issues that you want improved on first.

Say something like: “You’re smart. I want you to give at least one opinion in every brainstorming meeting we’re in together.” instead of “You should talk more in our meetings.” The former statement is more focused, addresses a specific issue directly and offers a solution, while the latter communication is ambiguous and opens many avenues for misinterpretation.

5.   Be tough, but not mean

Feedback will fall flat if you are unreasonable, mean-spirited and/or offensive. State your expectations clearly, firmly and civilly with a view to achieve positive change. Give not-so-positive appraisal in a private conversation to avoid making people look foolish or feel embarrassed in front of others.

Just be considerate and stick to discussing behavior that people can actually change. People generally appreciate public recognition of positive contributions, but will often take it hard if you criticize them for under-performance in public.

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6.   Follow up

Follow up on the progress of what was talked about in performance evaluations. Acknowledge people’s efforts to improve, and reward them when possible to reinforce positive effort and encourage improved performance.

Remember that people tend to become what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be, so don’t nag them with the excuse that you are following up. Be reasonable, and you will increase the effectiveness of your communications.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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