Do Employees Really Prefer Negative Feedback?

In the recent article Surprising Research Says Negative Feedback Is Effective (and We Might Even Prefer It), the author cites research by the leadership firm Zenger Folkman which showed:

By roughly a three-to-one margin, (employees) indicated that getting suggestions for improvement and being alerted to mistakes did more to raise their performance than positive feedback and praise. When asked to name something that could help advance their careers, fully 72% thought their performance would improve with more frequent and authentic appraisals from managers – even if that meant swallowing difficult news along the way.

Because of the potential downside of poorly delivered negative feedback, managers contemplating this and other research cited in the article would be wise to recognize that not all negative feedback is equal, nor productive.

The takeaway message shouldn’t be “Amp up the negative feedback and watch your employees grow and flourish.”

The takeaway from this article should be: “Make giving feedback a regular part of everyday work life—including negative feedback, and…make sure you know HOW to give negative feedback in a way that generates positive results, not disengagement, resentment, and confusion.

Negative Feedback Is Helpful IF…

1. It’s not the ONLY time the employee gets feedback.

2. The manager makes it a dialogue and not a monologue or a harangue.

3. The manager explains The Why behind the feedback and recommendation. First, if the employee understands the rationale behind the feedback, she is more likely to buy into the feedback. Second, it helps reveal the implicit knowledge and problem-solving processes the manager uses to address challenges and solve problems. This sharing of the manager’s internal world helps turn the manager from a boss into a valuable mentor and coach.

4. Makes it primarily “feedforward”-i.e. “in the future, here’s what I would like to see.” vs. dwelling on the past and what went wrong. The latter feels like criticism, while the former feels like a road map to success in that particular area.

5. Is clear and specific through the use of examples and sensory-specific language (i.e. what you would actually see and hear), so the employee isn’t left trying to guess what “be more of a team player” or “be more professional” or other conceptual terms mean.

6. The manager has cultivated a positive, respectful, caring relationship with the employee so the employee understands that when the manager gives negative feedback, it’s coming from that place.

7. The manager demonstrates a willingness to receive feedback from employees and models open-minded receptivity.


Related articles:

What to Do When The Feedback Conversation Goes Wrong

21 Mistakes to Avoid When Giving Constructive Feedback


Related Webinar Recording

How to Deal with the Chronically Defensive Person


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