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How to Give Negative Feedback to Employees: 10 Best Techniques

Anja Zojceska | 5/18/2019 | Culture & People

Want to learn how to deliver negative feedback fairly and effectively? In this blog post, you’ll discover 10 best techniques and examples of giving negative feedback to your employees. Use them and turn negative feedback into a powerful tool for increasing employee engagement and productivity!

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How to give negative feedback people will actually want to hear?

If you’re like most managers, you probably hate delivering negative feedback

You might feel uncomfortable or even worry that you’ll sound like a jerk. 

In a study of 2,700 leaders, researchers found that the majority of them avoid giving feedback - especially corrective or negative feedback. 

43% of leaders said they found that giving corrective feedback is a “stressful and difficult experience.”

Negative-employee-feedback-statistics

In this blog post, you’ll learn how to deliver negative feedback fairly and effectively

If given in the right way, negative feedback can be turned into an incredibly powerful tool for increasing employee engagement and productivity.

➡️If you’re looking for more great tips for managing employees, sign up for our FREE 7 days email course: Short Leaderships Tips for Managers!

Employees want to hear negative feedback

Most managers don't enjoy giving feedback, but it seems that employees love receiving it! 

The Globoforce study found that:

A global survey conducted by Officevibe compiled data from thousands of organizations across 157 countries worldwide. 

Here is what this survey found out:

Employees-want-feedback-statistic

Employees want to hear more feedback - even if that feedback is negative

A famous Gallup poll found that:

At first, it might seem strange that people are more engaged if they receive negative feedback. But it actually makes sense. 

Employees who don’t receive any feedback can feel neglected, unimportant and like their work goes unnoticed

Consequently, their engagement will go down the drain. 

Employees who get negative feedback at least feel like their work is important

They also view receiving negative feedback as an opportunity to improve their work performance. 

Zenger and Folkman's study has found that:

Presented well” is the key

If given in an appropriate manner, negative feedback can provide an opportunity for growth. 

Managers who know how to give feedback wisely have an extremely effective tool to manage employees in their hands. 

10 best techniques for giving negative feedback

There are many different methods for giving negative feedback. 

You’ve probably already heard about the sandwich method. 

However, if you want to provide truly useful feedback in a motivating way, you need to move beyond the (shit) sandwich

Here are 10 better ways to give valuable and constructive feedback to your employees:

Technique #1: I like, I wish, I wonder

This technique is borrowed from Design thinking (DT) methodology. 

The concept is quite simple - you deliver the feedback in 3 steps:

✔️ Step 1: “I like…”

Use this statement to convey the positive aspects of your employee’s work performance. 

✔️ Step 2: “I wish…” 

Use this statement to share ideas of the aspects of your employee’s performance that can be changed or improved.

✔️ Step 3: “I wonder….”

Use this statement to express your suggestions for improvement.

Here is a real-life example from the Pulse team

✔️ "I like the layout of the new xyz feature."

🌠 "I wish the text size was slightly larger for better readability."

"I wonder how we will get more people to discover xyz."

Giving-negative-feedback-like-wish-wonder-technique

Technique #2: Plussing

Plussing is Pixar's magic formula for giving feedback. 

Plussing has played a game-changing role at the film company Pixar

The general guideline is that you may only criticize an idea if you also add a constructive suggestion. Hence the name plussing.

✔️ Here’s an example

An animator working on “Toy Story 3” shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. 

Instead of criticizing the sketch, the director will build on the starting point by saying something like: “I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?”

Basically, it boils down to the difference between No, but…” and “Yes, and…

In other words, try to build upon what’s already good, and then make suggestions for improvement.

Technique #3: 3-2-1

3-2-1 technique is based on research done by psychologists Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and organizational psychologist Dr. Marcial Losada. 

These researchers have proven that a ratio of at least 3 positive to 1 negative statement is necessary to create a successful relationship in our business lives.

Here is how to deliver feedback using 3-2-1 technique:

✔️ Step 1: Name things you liked

✔️ Step 2: Name areas you feel could be improved

✔️ Step 3: Highlight the thing you liked most.

Giving-negative-feedback-321-technique

Technique #4: CORE

Core feedback model is created to help you ensure that your negative feedback is specific, concrete and functional by focusing on the:

✔️ Step 1: Context

When did X occur? Where were you? Who was involved?

✔️ Step 2: Observation

What happened - what specific behaviors did you observe?

✔️ Step 3: Reaction

What was the effect of the employee’s behavior (on you, others and business)?

✔️ Step 4: Expectations

What do you expect from your employees going forward?

Giving-negative-feedback-CORE-technique

Technique #5: IDEALS

The IDEALS technique is created by Mark Murphy, the author of the famous book about leadership Hundred percenters.

IDEALS technique consist of 6 steps:

✔️ Step 1: Invite

Invite your employees to have a conversation with you. 

Give them a choice about when the meeting will take place. 

✔️ Step 2: Disarm 

Don’t criticize the employee. Stay calm and positive. Focus on the issue at hand.

✔️ Step 3: Eliminate blame

Focus on finding a solution.

✔️ Step 4: Affirm their control 

Regularly ask the employee if they agree with what you’re saying

✔️ Step 5: List corrections

List specific recommendations for your employees.

✔️ Step 6: Synchronize 

Ask the employee how you can help make sure this doesn’t happen again

Technique #6: CEDAR

CEDAR feedback technique was developed by Anna Wildman, the specialist in performance management skills.

CEDAR technique consists of 5 steps:

✔️ Step 1: Context

Introduce the area of feedback and explain how important it is. 

Explain the level of impact; how big it is, who is affected and the outcome.

✔️ Step 2: Examples

Describe specific examples to illustrate the situation clearly. 

✔️ Step 3: Diagnosis

Explore what’s behind an employee’s bad performance. This will usually be learning or motivation needs.

✔️ Step 4: Action

Decide what actions will be important going forward.

✔️ Step 5: Review

Follow up to support and embed any new behaviors is critical.  

Giving-negative-feedback-CEDAR-technique

Technique #7: EEC

Evidence-Effect-Change (EEC) technique comes from project management and it focuses on improvement

Communication is strictly clinical and intentionally devoid of emotional terms. 

EEC technique consists of 3 steps:

✔️ Step 1: Evidence

For example, the project manager corrects a team member for schedule deviations. 

The evidence presented is a mix of print-outs, data and verifiable incidents of the inappropriate schedule variation. 

✔️ Step 2: Effect

The effect is another print-out that shows concrete cause-and-effect chains brought on by the schedule deviations.

✔️ Step 3: Change

Carefully inquire about the possible ways to achieve the desired change.

Giving-negative-feedback-EEC-technique

Technique #8: Stop, Start, Continue

Stop-Start-Continue is another popular feedback technique, also used by Netflix

This technique delivers feedback in 3 simple steps:

✔️ Step 1: Stop

Tell your employees what you feel they should stop doing.

✔️ Step 2: Start

Tell your employees what you feel they should start doing.

✔️ Step 3: Continue

Tell your employees what you wish them to continue doing.

Giving-negative-feedback-start-stop-continue-technique

Technique #9: SBI

Developed by The Center for Creative Leadership, the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) technique outlines a simple process that you can use to give feedback:

✔️ Step 1: Identify the situation

Put the feedback into context and gives an employee a specific setting as a reference.

For example: “At the client meeting on Monday afternoon...”

✔️ Step 2: Describe the behavior

Describe the specific behaviors that you want to address.

For example: “When you gave your presentation, you were uncertain about two of the slides, and your sales calculations were incorrect.”

✔️ Step 3: Explain its impact

Use “I” statements to describe how the employee’s action has affected you or others.

For example: “I felt embarrassed because the entire board was there. I’m worried that this has affected the reputation of our team.”

Giving-negative-feedback-situation-behavior-impact-technique

Technique #10: 6 steps

Here is how to give feedback using 6 steps technique:

✔️ Step 1: State the constructive purpose of your feedback.

For example: "I have a concern about...", "I feel I need to let you know..."

✔️ Step 2: Describe specifically what you have observed

For example: "Yesterday afternoon, when you were speaking with Mrs. Sanchez, I noticed that you kept raising your voice."

✔️ Step 3: Describe your reactions.

For example: "The staff member looked embarrassed and I felt uncomfortable about seeing the episode." 

✔️ Step 4: Give the other person an opportunity to respond

For example: "What do you think?","What is your view of this situation?"

✔️ Step 5: Offer specific suggestions.

For example: "Jennifer, I sometimes write myself notes or put up signs to remind myself to do something."

✔️ Step 6: Summarize and express your support

For example: "As I said, the way the group has figured out how to cover phone calls has really lessened the number of phone messages to be returned. You've really followed through on a tough problem. Please keep taking the initiate on problems like that.”

Which negative feedback technique should you use?

Unfortunately, there is no single best technique for giving negative feedback. 

Feedback isn’t one-size-fits-all - especially when it comes to giving negative feedback. 

You should choose the one that fits best with your company culture and your own, personal management style

A good idea is to experiment and try out a few techniques. 

The more of them you master, the more equipped you’ll be for giving feedback to different employees.  

Key takeaway: Tailor your feedback to the recipient!

You should always keep in mind that different ways of giving negative feedback can have a completely different impact on different people. 

A technique that works great with some of your employees may be completely wrong for other employees.

This is why it is crucial for you to tailor your feedback to the specific recipient. Get to know your team members. 

If you work closely with them every day, you probably know how they handle certain situations. Use that insight to choose the approach that might be right for them. 

For example, if you’re dealing with an employee who is a sensitive perfectionist, a very subtle remark from your side might be more than enough

On the other hand, a self-confident, star performer might prefer to hear very direct and honest negative feedback. 

Generally, you should always keep in mind your employees’ expert level

A recent research paper, “Tell Me What I did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback,” published in The Journal of Consumer Research has found that expertise plays a huge role in the way people react to feedback.  

When people are experts on a subject (or consider themselves experts!), they’re more eager to hear negative feedback, while beginners are more likely to seek positive responses and encouragement.

If you don’t know your team members that well, ask them how they prefer to receive feedback.

Here is what you can say:

“I would like to offer you regular feedback that will help you learn and grow. Can you teach me how to give you feedback that will motivate you?”

You might be surprised how many valuable guidelines such a simple question can provide. 

When you approach your employees this way, you’re telling them that you have their best interest at heart

You are letting them know that you’ll be on their side - even when you give them negative feedback. 

Give solely positive feedback as well!

In order to build trust with your employees and ease the whole process of delivering negative feedback, you should also deliver solely positive feedback to your employees regularly. 

Keep in mind that the Zenger and Folkman study found that:

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