When giving constructive criticism, it's important to remember to distinguish a person from their actions. If it’s titanic, they know it’s going to be, oh, this is going to be a serious conversation. You should also tell them what it was about the work that was so good - be specific! Before offering constructive feedback to candidates, it is important to ensure that you are not framing what you say in a negative light. But what they don’t realize is what Joe just got through talking about, which is people really do want to have more information about how they are performing, so long as it is delivered in a constructive and helpful way. Again, bringing in both positives and negatives can be key here. Is my future in jeopardy? Obviously, frequency will vary depending on how much interaction you have with the individual you are giving constructive criticism to, but making feedback a regular part of your conversations and meetings will go a long way. They’re always on the negative side of that. SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well and it’s interesting too, how you then, you framed it there as corrective feedback, not critical feedback. And so, I think if we can put it in perspective and kind of set the stage for it, if it doesn’t come as a big surprise, if it comes in small doses, then I think it goes down much, much more effectively. Today I’m talking with Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. People talk about– I was sitting at my kitchen table this morning, and I had this profound thought. You always get better at things that you’ve practice. When giving constructive criticism, it's important to make sure you're presenting a balanced perspective, whether your feedback is ultimately positive or negative. I thought maybe you could just give us a sense of your approach to sorting through your database, and sort of how you use the data to come up with advice. I’m just sort of curious. And as you said, if the manager will have frequent meetings, and if the great bulk of those meetings are constructive ideas, positive reinforcement, then when the time comes that the manager wants to pass on some kind of corrective kind of feedback, then it’s no big deal. SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So I’m wondering also about the value of giving feedback in public versus private, because we’ve published a lot of dissenting views on this on HBR.org over the years. 53% said it was praise and recognition. Or at how they give feedback? SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That’s a really good point. But they want it delivered it in such a way that it’s not harmful to them, it doesn’t frighten them. I mean there was advice given, there was set up, there was support, and sort of lots of players were involved. It also helps very much to have a plan, have a track to follow. Is it that they sort of want to know, but at the same time it’s hard to hear? Face-to-face conversations also are more dynamic, as both parties can ask questions and dig deeper into the issues at hand. And let me present you the other side of the story. Because in a case like that, maybe they say they want the critical feedback, but in reality what they want is to be reassured that they’re not doing the wrong thing, they don’t have the spinach stuck in their teeth or whatever it is. Every conversation should focus on just one incident so it has your full focus. Nobody says they need it, they want it, they feel weak when they do. Drop in my office, I want to share some thoughts with you. Is it that the feedback was clumsily delivered? Sincere. You ought to bring up the issue. Oh, my goodness. I see that lead a lot, and I always cut it out–. And so maybe if you can just not worry so much about the truth or not the error of the feedback, but more what’s the learning there, I think you can respond to it appropriately. High-performing individuals tend to like having goals to strive for, so simply telling someone something is great without giving them something new to work towards or what elements they can focus on replicating in the future can be frustrating for them. And how can people do that well if that’s what’s called for? If praise is sort of hard to hear, or people have a hard time accepting that that’s true, any advice out there either for those people or for their managers? 2. Well, they do know it. And he said, you know what, they don’t need a lot of feedback from me. Provide the specifics of what occurred. Champlain College will not share or sell personal information. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University. Yeah, and it’s funny what we’re sort of really getting to here is the power differential between different people. Jack, maybe we’ll go back to you for this one. And you go, what’s going on there? Whenever possible, it is almost always better to deliver constructive criticism in face-to-face meetings rather than via email, instant messenger, or phone. Then I think it can end up being a positive experience, rather than just a horribly negative experience. JOSEPH FOLKMAN: It is interesting, Sarah, because I think most of the time when you have some feedback to give, you imagine to yourself, I need to tell them, because they don’t understand. About 47% of the population said it was corrective. And the feedback he got is, we need feedback. That means that you will both be on the same page in terms of expectations and performance, and that when something more significant comes up performance-wise, you'll be better prepared to deliver the necessary feedback, and they'll be better prepared to receive it. They want to know where they stand and how they’re doing. JOSEPH FOLKMAN: Well, you know, Sarah, it’s a great question, because I read a lot of blogs. JACK ZENGER: I think there’s great value when people are given positive reinforcement in public. I mean, if you ask people their preference, would you rather have your manager tell you something that you’re doing wrong or praise you for what you’re doing right? Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. What made the difference? And I think it involves having some fundamental objectives that you’re trying to accomplish in that feedback or in that discussion. And then just say to the manager, would you like to hear the other side of the story? I can’t even imagine the scenario that would have that be the best avenue. They kind of symbolically take off their stripes. Champlain College Online is part of Champlain College. It’s a little bit of a fishing expedition type question. But what there is about that whole discussion is that there’s never a finger pointing, who’s at fault, who made a mistake. Regardless of your role, level, or industry, at some point in your career, you'll most likely need to know how to give constructive feedback in the workplace. For example, if a specific project doesn't meet your expectations, you could frame the conversation by saying how you've been impressed with the individual's work in the past, which is why you know that this deliverable could be improved. JOSEPH FOLKMAN: It was an interesting situation that a president of an organization became the CEO. But if this only happens once every six months or once a year, then it is a big deal. And that’s exactly the opposite of what you ought to do. I’m pivoting to a sort of different scenario where– we’ve been talking a lot about defensiveness. And whichever side of the equation you’re on there, work both sides. And it’s a little bit different than a lot of leadership advice that is out there. If they understand our constructive criticism, it may be easy to implement. Be it positive or negative, the feedback should be honest and genuine. Again, you want to be truthful - don't mislead someone into thinking their performance is better than it actually is - but giving someone a few positives to help motivate them can go a long way. Observing is the key to being specific and useful. It's very difficult to accept feedback or criticism from someone you do not trust to have your best interests at heart - you want the receiver to truly know that, first and foremost, you recognize their abilities, believe in their potential, and appreciate their work. But I think if the subordinate, in this case, would simply ask questions, not get upset. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. You need to pay attention to your team members, their work, and their challenges. JACK ZENGER: I think what’s hard about praise is that sometimes managers feel that for me to praise you, in a way, automatically sets me up as being your superior. A manager looking to give constructive feedback needs to know that it should be: Specific. But when you go to a movie and something traumatic is going to happen, the music kind of plays a little bit. So what you find is that people that say what’s been helpful for me is corrective, they tend to be more corrective oriented. Telling someone that their work needs improvement, but not giving details on what exactly is lacking or how it might be fixed, isn't helpful to anyone - the individual won't know what you're looking for, so they'll be frustrated and you most likely will not get the results you hoped for. What really happened? It's easy to read negativity into a statement that was meant as neutral, or to dismiss the importance of an issue that has serious consequences, when you're not talking in-person. This is more obvious when it comes to negative feedback - while you shouldn't have to feel like you must paint a picture that's different from the reality of the situation, especially if you have major concerns about the work or behaviors being discussed, it's helpful to be able to point out some positives in that person's attitude or output. Give the individual an opportunity to respond The feedback that you get is based on somebody’s negative feelings, or frustration, or anger, or something like that. All these fundamental human needs are potentially kind of at risk. Suspend immediate judgement.
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