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How to Improve Productivity With Judicious Use Of Negative Feedback

How to Improve Productivity With Judicious Use Of Negative Feedback

The way your business performs depends to a huge extent on the way that your employees improve from day to day, and how the team bounces back from mistakes or slumps. If it feels from time to time like it would be easier to work with a robot crew who perform how they should and never slip up, you know deep down that what makes your organization special is the precise cocktail of human talent that you’ve assembled. And guess what – even artificial intelligence is designed to learn from its mistakes.

Take a square look at the way that your company deals with failure, and you will probably notice that a good deal of slack is left by the need for more precise – and not necessarily positive – criticism or feedback. It is an absolute myth that negative feedback does not improve performance, just as it is a myth that such feedback is necessarily hurtful. So long as you play within the rules and expectations that your employees know, there’s no reason that they should find negative feedback to be personal or out of line – and as the boss, it’s you who sets those expectations.

Holding an initial meeting to discuss the subject of feedback is the best way to bring about this change of practice. Explain to the group your own opinion on the efficacy of constructive negative feedback, and ask each team member their own opinion on why critical feedback is important. Then you are all on the same page and you can go ahead and define the parameters within which future feedback sessions should operate.

It is useful to get consensus on this because you will also want to encourage other team members to give negative feedback. Properly regulated, negative feedback within the team itself can help create a culture of self-regulation and mutual support. And of course you yourself should not be immune to these insights: you can ask for feedback on your feedback and prompt for ideas on how you can improve.

Don’t expect this perfectly oiled feedback machine to start working at full throttle immediately! It can take a while for people to feel confident at giving negative feedback, to learn how to receive and process it, and to learn the language of thoughtful but incisive criticism that is necessary for it to thrive. You can normalize the process by penciling in regular feedback sessions at the start or end (or both) of the week, so that it becomes a routine and not something for you staff to be frightened about. Make sure to keep discussions of pay and promotion out of these reviews – they belong in one-on-one meetings only, and it is also not healthy to pair them with negative feedback. Saddling the two together can result in an emotionally volatile atmosphere.

Instead, keep the focus on the concrete business of the work itself. Negative feedback is most useful when it is specific. Discuss it in the context of work that has recently been completed or an upcoming brief, and be sure to connect it to specific actions or mistakes rather than generalized statements about an individual’s personality or capability. It’s also a great way to put a project to bed or to launch purposefully into a new one.

So how should these feedback sessions look? It is a very good idea to begin with self-reviews. Giving each individual a chance to appraise their own performance and results can give them a sense of a voice so they don’t feel they’re being attacked when you introduce your negative feedback into the conversation. It means they are likely to identify the points which you want to make, before you make them. This can promote self-understanding and development so that it comes from within rather than from above. It also gives you a chance to listen and adjust your feedback as appropriate. Ask questions and listen carefully, rather than waiting to jump in with a contradiction or complaint.

When it is your turn to speak, don’t launch straight into the negative feedback, but rather introduce what you are going to say or ask permission first so you don’t catch anyone off guard. Be specific about goals that have been missed, errors that have been made, or techniques that are being neglected. And be specific in setting new targets, in creating mechanisms to ensure that errors are spotted and rectified quickly, and in identifying ways that your employees can develop their skills and approaches in the workplace. You might want to set new rules, principles or regulations to ensure the slip doesn’t occur again: pairing this with the negative feedback can help your crew to understand the reasons for the new rules and to remember the circumstances in which they came about.

A good structure is to state what the shortcoming was, discuss why it happened, and to set new targets and/or methods to ensure improvement. A less effective formation is to sandwich negative feedback between two positive pieces of feedback. Unfortunately, by now most people are aware of this somewhat manipulative technique, and if your positive feedback feels forced and insincere then your negative feedback won’t be received with the trust it deserves.

Finally, when giving negative feedback within a group setting it is of course possible that conflict will occur. If members of your team begin to argue with each other, by all means step into arbitrate and keep things civil, but don’t make the mistake of pulling rank or shouting the conversation down. Instead, you can promote mutual responsibility and better outcomes by encouraging them to find a meaningful resolution between themselves.

Once you have this system up and running, it may take a few weeks for it to feel natural – but that is exactly what will happen once everyone gets used to the routine. Your team won’t feel like negative feedback is dragging them down so long as they know it has a purpose, it’s given thoughtfully, and they know how to deal with it to come out stronger.



John is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.  Courtesy of Headway Capital

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Tresha D. Moreland, MBA, MS, FACHE, SPHR, SSBBP, founder of HR C-Suite, is an HR thought leader in Human Resource Strategic Management. She has held key human resource leadership roles for over 20 years in multiple industries most recently a senior vice president in the healthcare industry. Tresha is the founder and publisher of HR C-Suite ( HR C-Suite is a game changer results-based HR strategy website. It is a first-of-it's-kind site that organizes HR strategy based on desired business result. She has developed a business philosophy of integrating human resources with business strategy, thus creating a hybrid HR leadership approach. This approach enables the leveraging human resources to achieve business results.

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