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Who gave you permission to provide negative feedback?

I meet lots of people who believe that nagging is the only way to change someone’s behavior. They also believe or rather deceive themselves that the more they repeat “don’t do this”, the better it works. In this post I’d like to show you how negative feedback impacts the quality of your relations. 

How do we react to negative feedback?

Imagine a situation where a woman tells her man:

You are not a good dancer. I don’t have fun with you at parties.

What would his reaction be? Do you think this man would think:

Oh, she is totally right. I don’t want to upset her anymore. I’m going to take dance lessons.

No, it is not natural for people to react this way and the reason for that is negative bias. Our brains react faster to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive stimuli. Such a reaction was developed out of necessity for survival – fight or flight response. Be aware that when you give negative feedback the recipient’s brain is flooded with stress-inducing hormones so it actually is natural to fight it when somebody tries to hurt or offend you.

Don’t expect a nice and easy conversation when you give negative opinions about another person. It doesn’t matter what this feedback is about, whether it’s someone’s work or their personal trait. Even if someone appears to be fine, what they feel on the inside may be very different and they may just be hiding behind a fake smile.

Giving unwanted advice

Personally, I don’t give negative feedback unless somebody asks for it or for some reason it is necessary, for instance my job requires it. If you’re a manager or a leader this negative feedback is one of the most important aspects of your job. I’ll elaborate a bit more on how to deliver it properly in another post.

Getting back to the point, in general giving unwanted advice is the first step to kill your professional relations. In the past even if I had good intentions people often weren’t thankful for such opinions. Instead, they wanted to prove they did the right thing and in the end they simply felt insulted. But what kind of feedback do I give NOT off the top of my head? Positive and natural. The one that can improve the quality of relations and motivate other people.

Do you need to deliver negative feedback?

Before you deliver negative feedback make sure you know your goal. Why do you want to do that? What’s the real value of the message you wish to deliver? Do you simply want to upset someone or do you want to actually improve their behavior? Let’s imagine a situation where a team member is always in a rush because of working on several things simultaneously. The worst thing you can do is to give negative advice, such as:

You’re not assertive. You need to organize your time effectively. Let me enroll you for a corporate training.

So what should I do?

First, you need to analyze whether the problem is real. Does it affect meeting a deadline or the quality of work? If it doesn’t, then you need to ask yourself a question if it’s worth solving a yet unexisting problem and risk the quality of your relations. Maybe the problem is the pressure the team is under because of an upcoming deadline? Or maybe it’s a matter of work style? I know plenty of people who like doing lots of things at once. They want to feel needed and they like to dazzle their superiors during status meetings. In that case giving negative feedback can be more harmful than helpful. Nobody wants to listen to pointless advice.

The second problem with this sort of feedback is that feelings may be easily hurt. The “you’re not assertive” advice is focused on a person not behavior. It’s an adjective describing what kind of a person someone is. In this case the adjective is negative and very personal, so nobody will be happy to hear those words.


3 thoughts on “Who gave you permission to provide negative feedback?”

    1. I’m going to write some posts about that. But if you decide to give negative feedback just remember to talk about the problem, not a person. If the problem is someone’s behavior, don’t give instant advice. Let that person find a solution. You should act more like a coach rather than a boss pointing bad aspects and giving prescription.

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