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Employee Feedback is Critical. But What Type is Best?

Claude Harrington 09.29.2016

Earlier this week, we talked about the sad state of employee engagement; specifically, we talked about how employee feedback can boost engagement and also improve customer satisfaction. In our post, we cited several compelling figures. Like this one: 72% of employees under age 30 would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis.

But simply acknowledging that feedback (and well-designed feedback loops) can significantly help your business is only part of the solution. The next step involves answering this: what types of feedback are the most productive? So that’s exactly what we’ll explore today…


How Negativity Can Be…a Positive?

We all dread receiving negative feedback, right? And most of us probably dread giving it too. But here’s the thing: negative feedback can be quite valuable.

To help understand why, let’s examine the work of leadership experts Joseph Folkman and Jack Zenger. In a piece called Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give, which first appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Folkman and Zenger talk about some research that they conducted.

Namely what they did was examine some of the key differences between “positive feedback” and “correct feedback.” In particular, they looked at the preferences of those who would be giving and receiving such feedback. Do you prefer to give positive feedback? Do you prefer to give negative feedback? Stuff like that. 

In the course of their research, they detected two very surprising things:

  • A significantly larger number (57%) preferred receiving corrective feedback (as opposed to receiving praise/recognition).
  • 72% said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.

Now, don’t shut down your computer to go off and scold co-workers just yet! Because—to maximize the effectiveness of corrective feedback—there was one key thing they discovered…

It’s How You Say It

“How it was done really mattered,” stress Folkman and Zenger. To this point, 92% of respondents agreed with the assertion:

“Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”

92% makes that a HUGE “If.” Though it shouldn’t be surprising to any of us who have lived through experiences that made us realize the truth of this saying: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

So…what is the best way to “say it?”

Everything You Need to Know

For advice on this subject, let’s turn to Sarah Green Carmichael…

Sarah Green Carmichael is a a senior editor at Harvard Business Review. In 2014, she dug through HBR’s archives and compiled the best research- and experience-based advice on what to do and what to avoid. The resulting story was a piece entitled Everything You Need to Know About Giving Negative Feedback.

Below are a few of the most useful tips from the piece:

The Bottom Line

Like we said at the top of this piece: almost all of us dread negative feedback. But, as we’ve learned from the facts and figures above, there’s one thing more powerful than that dread: a desire to improve. Whether it’s work, life, love or something else; we all want to be better. Why wouldn’t we? But sometimes getting there requires hearing difficult things.

So keep that in mind the next time you find yourself giving or receiving constructive feedback. And try to always remember that the how can be as important as the what.

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