Take care when giving negative feedback

There has been a long-held practice in the management world that makes use of negative performance feedback to focus employees on correcting their flaws and improving their output at work. After all, won’t pointing out what someone is doing wrong help them to identify their development areas and make steps toward improvement?

Recent studies strongly suggests that this is far from the case, and even if they are conducted with the best of intentions, performance reviews that emphasise the negatives can be damaging. An example is research led by Kansas State University’s Satoris Culbertson that shows that a critical assessment of job performance can harm employees at any level.

The main finding from the study – which surprised the researchers – was that for all types of employee, their motivation to learn on the job and perform well is discouraged by receiving negative feedback. In fact, such feedback can affect a range of employee engagement factors such as motivation, commitment to the job and performance.

“Nobody likes to get negative feedback – even those individuals who aren’t trying to prove anything to others, but instead are just trying to learn as much as possible,” Professor Culbertson explained.

“We should be careful that negative feedback is provided in a way that is more constructive, because it can help people try to improve.”

She also pointed out the dangers of putting numbers on people, as number-based performance reviews are subjective at best, with different people having different interpretations of scores.

Employing a 360 degree feedback survey that doesn’t revolve around what managers are doing right or doing wrong is a better approach. Leaderskill’s Leader/Manager 360-degree feedback surveys use just such a method. They ask respondents what needs they have of the participant, also focusing on what is working well. They guide participants in a non-threatening way to “do more” or “do less” of good practice behaviours.

This strengths-based approach takes the fear out of receiving feedback – and is much more supportive of performance improvement than focusing at length on the problems.

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