Poor Performance Appraisal? Here are the tips to turn any negative feedback into positive.
Poor Performance Appraisal? Here are the tips to turn any negative feedback into positive.

Poor Performance Appraisal? Here are the tips to turn any negative feedback into positive.

Last updated on 15th Jul 2020, Blog, General

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What the Experts Say?

Negative feedback often contradicts the stories that we tell about ourselves — what we’re good at, what we’re capable of — and sometimes confirms our worst fears. But don’t let a negative review unravel the story of who you are. “No one bats a thousand,” says Mitchell Marks, professor of management at San Francisco State University and president of the consultancy JoiningForces.org. “We’re human beings. And sometimes a reality check is quite valuable.” Without feedback, after all, there wouldn’t be any possibility for growth. “Always getting a glowing review means that you’re not challenging yourself,” says Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Critical input can be “a signal that you’re tackling things that are stretching you.” Still, it doesn’t feel good. Here’s how to bounce back from a negative review.

Reflect before you react

It’s tempting to get angry or defensive, especially if you’re accustomed to positive reviews. But it’s important to “hold your emotions in check,” says Marks. “There’s nothing to be gained by lashing out or putting down the system or the person delivering the review.” Take a few days to let the feedback sink in. If it helps, find a friend to vent to, says Heen, but try to do it outside of the office.

Look for your blind spots

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    It’s possible that you may not recognize yourself in the feedback. That’s because, despite our best intentions, there is often a gap between how we see ourselves and the way that others actually see us. “We need other people to help us see ourselves,” says Heen. Although it can be comforting to lean on a sympathetic friend, try to seek out those who will be candid with you instead of telling you that the input isn’t true. “Think about talking to friends who can help you learn from the feedback, rather than simply reinforce your self-perception,” says Heen. Ask yourself: What might be right about this criticism? Have I heard it before? Perhaps your tone comes across as more exasperated than you intend, or colleagues feel you shoot down ideas too quickly even though you believe that you keep an open mind. If after some self-reflection, you still don’t understand the roots of the critiques, reach out to colleagues for additional feedback, again “making it clear you are interested in honesty, not consolation,” says Marks.

    Ask questions

    Once you’ve cooled off, make sure you fully understand the review. That may involve going back to your boss with questions. “If anything is not crystal clear, ask,” says Marks. Be careful with your tone: You don’t want to appear as if you’re challenging the review.” “Ask as many questions as possible,” says Heen. If your boss says you aren’t taking enough risks, ask, “Can you give me an example of a time when I should have taken the initiative but didn’t? What might you have done?” If your team is excelling in some performance targets, but bombing in others, ask what level of performance might be considered a success and for insight into how to achieve it. Make it clear you want concrete examples of what you should be doing differently.

    Make a performance plan

    The purpose of feedback is to help you improve in your job, and that requires a detailed plan of action. That may involve learning new skills, reprioritizing your tasks, or reevaluating how you come across to colleagues. Agree with your manager on what you need to do to make changes. “Give yourself thirty days or sixty days to experiment with trying to do a couple of things differently,” says Heen. “Then check in with the relevant people, and say, ‘Look, I’m changing how I’m approaching this but help me see if I’m on track.’” Marks also suggests asking for an interim review with your manager to make sure that you’re making the performance improvements that you want to make. “Ask your boss if you can set a date now for a meeting in three or six months,” he says. That way you can make sure your performance meets everyone’s expectations.

    Here are some tips on how you can give negative feedback during performance reviews effectively:

    1. Ask Employees To Self-Evaluate

    Before delving deeper into the issues causing negative behavior, first try to understand what the employee thinks about the same. Ask your employees to complete a self-assessment before you meet with them. This will help you see how they perceive their own work and themselves. It will help you become aware of whether your thoughts align with their thoughts or not. And keeping that in mind, you can choose your responses accordingly.

    For instance, if there are issues where there is contention, do not bring them up immediately. Start the conversation with the issues you share common grounds with.

    2. Counteract Negative Feedback With Positive

    This is very crucial. If you have negative feedback for your employee, make sure you do not say it all out together. Stockpiling negative feedback can be disastrous. It can make the conversation filled with criticism and complaint and might make things uncomfortable. Make sure you highlight the positive things and place the negative within it very categorically so that it does not feel like a huge blow for the employee.

    3. Be Objective

    It is very important to not get personal or use subjective bias while delivering a negative feedback. BE as objective and neutral in your approach as possible. Do not cite personal comments, judgments or observations during the conversation. State issues that relate to just the work and the performance of the employee. Do not use a chance to give negative feedback as a way to vent out your own worries and insecurities.

    How to point out the negative in a positive way

    Here’s an example of how to do this:

    • Jacob (not his real name) wanted to get better at managing one of his direct reports, Kyle (also not his real name). He was frustrated with what he saw as Kyle’s lack of initiative. Besides Kyle seeming to have no interest in exploring more opportunities for their team to contribute to their employer’s strategic goals, he rarely came up with answers to Jacob’s questions about how processes could be improved.
    • Jacob had been referred for coaching because of his overly aggressive management style. While he acknowledged that some of his behaviors were inappropriate, he saw Kyle’s lack of initiative and unwillingness to think for himself as inherent flaws in Kyle’s make-up, not a result of his management style.
    • After interviewing Jacob’s team, including Kyle, it was clear that Jacob was his own worst enemy. He was, unfortunately, reaping what he was sowing.
    • His aggressive and often condescending approach, his not listening and frequently interrupting had alienated his team, especially the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Kyle.

    Maybe the problem is me?

    • To his credit, Jacob was willing to look in the mirror and examine his behavior. Even though by nature he was very self-assured and convinced of his rightness in most matters, he was willing to consider that perhaps he was the common denominator in the various ways his team disappointed him.
    • After a couple of months of discussing and analyzing his interactions, Jacob was able to see that his interpersonal style played a central role in the lack of engagement he saw Kyle displaying.
    • As Jacob and I worked on how he could interact with Kyle (and the rest of the team) in a more respectful, inviting way, Kyle’s behavior began to change.

    When the manager changes, so does the employee

    • In response to Jacob’s more respectful interactional style, Kyle started speaking up in meetings and in one-on-one conversations with Jacob. For the first time in years, he showed an active interest in contributing.
    • When asked how he might approach a project, Kyle started giving well-thought out answers, rather than rushed “I want to get him off my back” answers.
    • As part of our plan for giving Kyle more opportunities to shine and to demonstrate what he truly was capable of, Jacob asked Kyle to facilitate an important meeting, something Jacob had never considered asking Kyle to do previously.
    • Kyle did an excellent job, according to Jacob, except in one minor area.
    • There were a couple of places where the meeting stalled out, in Jacob’s opinion, and Kyle let it languish versus getting it back on track.
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    Will this feedback be helpful or make things worse?

    • Jacob rightly saw this as a great coaching opportunity to help Kyle grow professionally, but was worried that addressing that one area would make him sound overly critical. He was concerned that it might lead Kyle to believe he didn’t notice or appreciate all the good things Kyle did while running the meeting. He also worried that focusing on this one small area would set back their slowly improving relationship.
    • We discussed how it would benefit all parties — Kyle, Jacob, and their employer — if Jacob gave Kyle this professional development feedback. It would benefit all parties if he did it in a way that communicated:
    1. “I noticed the really good things you did in the meeting. Way to go!”
    2. “Here’s one small area where I think it would have been more helpful to handle differently…”
    3. “What are your thoughts about that and how might you handle it differently if it happens again?”

    With that in mind, here are the rules:

    1. Make negative feedback unusual.

    When a work environment becomes filled with criticism and complaint, people stop caring, because they know that–whatever they do–they’ll get raked over the coals. “I try to give seven positive reinforcements for every negative comment,” says Dan Cerutti, a general manager at IBM.

    2. Don’t stockpile negative feedback.

    Changes in behavior are more easily achieved when negative feedback is administered in small doses. When managers stockpile problems, waiting for the “right moment,” employees can easily become overwhelmed.

    “Feedback is best given real time, or immediately after the fact,” explains management coach Kate Ludeman.

    3. Never use feedback to vent.

    Sure, your job is frustrating–but although it might make you feel better to get your own worries and insecurities off your chest, venting a string of criticisms seldom produces improved behavior. In fact, it usually creates resentment and passive resistance.

    4. Don’t email negative feedback.

    People who avoid confrontation are often tempted use email as a vehicle for negative feedback. Don’t.

    “That’s like lobbing hand grenades over a wall,” says legendary electronic publishing guru Jonathan Seybold. “Email is more easily misconstrued, and when messages are copied, it brings other people into the fray.”

    5. Start with an honest compliment.

    Compliments start a feedback session on the right footing, according to according to management consultant Sally Narodick and current board member at the supercomputer company Cray. “Effective feedback focuses on the positive while still identifying areas for further growth and better outcomes.”

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    6. Uncover the root of the problem.

    You can give better feedback if you understand how the other person perceives the original situation. Asking questions such as, “Why do you approach this situation in this way?” or “What was your thought process?” not only provides you perspective, but it can lead other people to discover their own solutions and their own insights.

    7. Listen before you speak.

    Most people can’t learn unless they first feel that they’ve been heard out. Effective feedback “means paying attention and giving high-quality feedback from an empathic place, stepping into the other person’s shoes, appreciating his or her experience, and helping to move that person into a learning mode,” says Ludeman.

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