CommunicationRisk Management

Negative Feedback: Is It Constructive or Destructive?

Most everyone has been in a position to receive feedback from their bosses or peers. And I’m sure that they haven’t always welcomed that feedback, even if it was well-intentioned. But as Pearl Zhu writes in a post at her blog, constructive feedback is dependent, not only on the quality of the feedback giver, but on the ability of the receiver to be self-aware and admit that they are not perfect:

Those who give negative feedback on correctly assessing your flaws, should receive your gratitude and respect. However, those who give negative feedback based on ignorance, misinformation, misjudgment, or even rumors, envy or revenge, earn the scorn and contempt. As a feedback giver, you should take the responsibility of the words you say, and at the positive business atmosphere, those negative intentions or misjudgment needs to be discouraged or even penalized in order to build a healthy working environment and create a culture of learning and innovation.

For the Feedback Taker

Negative feedback, however conveyed and for whatever reason, can ruin a relationship for good. Those who are motivated and intelligent but who lack charisma or political grit are the most likely persons to suffer from negative criticism. But when conveyed empathetically, perhaps in the manner of a coach or mentor, it can be a welcome sign that you’re being cultivated as a professional in a constructive environment. Being aware and making the distinction between positive and negative criticism means the difference between harboring resentment and moving forward as an employee.

For the Feedback Giver

If you happen to be on the delivering end of negative feedback, consider your relationship with the recipient. Are they someone close, someone with whom you share a sense of mutual respect? In such a case, your criticism is more likely to be welcome. On the other hand, leveling harsh pointers at a newly minted intern or geographically distant associate is likely to have quite the opposite effect. The one exception applies to feedback givers who are known for their good intentions, high integrity, and positive accomplishments. Such individuals represent “quality” feedback givers.

A key piece of advice is to avoid saying everything you feel or think about the person receiving feedback. Remember that they only need to hear what will correct the error or what will advance them as a professional. Replace, “You need to have your reports on time and your breath stinks,” with, “Is there anything we can do to help you submit those reports before 11:00 a.m.? By the way, would you like a mint?”

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