With all the emphasis today on the importance of giving employees regular feedback, there is a tendency to forget that feedback is a two-way channel, and that taking negative feedback well is also an important skill.
Negative feedback hurts, even when your crew have been well-trained to give it politely and constructively. Nobody likes being told their work or deportment is below par, especially when they had no idea this was the case.
If your company’s training regime doesn’t yet involve a session on learning to handle negative feedback, it is worth exploring the process from a new perspective: that of the recipient. Of course, we’re assuming here you have already well trained managers on how to give negative — and even positive — feedback in an affirming manner. No amount of training is going to make an employee grateful or at least accepting of feedback if the person giving it is blunt, sharp or lacking in empathy or if the only feedback they ever give is negative.
Role play training
One of the best ways to share understanding on aspects like this is role-play. Have an HR colleague come in on this with you, performing a scripted feedback session and then asking for ideas on how the recipient could have done things differently.
The actor playing the recipient should be briefed with a set of “wrong” behaviors to exhibit while responding to the fake feedback. Start with the stance. The recipient might stand with their arms folded, looking anywhere but at their critic’s eyes. They should interrupt regularly to defend themselves, but then apologize – unconvincingly – at the end.
Now ask your trainees what the feedback’s recipient could have done better. Hopefully they’ll pick up on the body language. Of course, they should have stood or sat straight with arms open, maintaining eye contact. This not only demonstrates to the manager that the recipient is paying attention — and listening — is also supports a productive atmosphere.
There is a good opportunity here to tie the subject in with previous work you may have done around listening skills. (Somebody will probably bring up the feedback recipient’s constant interruptions, too, which are another indication of poor listening skills.)
Thanks for the feedback
Probably nobody will think to mention that the volunteer playing the feedback recipient failed to thank their critic for the feedback. As you know, the thanks should come around about where the apology was placed – but be far more heartfelt. Remember to let the trainees know that, like the rest of the feedback process, the thanks serve both parties. Thank you shows respect and politeness to the critic, but it also helps the recipient to frame the feedback as a gift, a favor, rather than an imposition or even an insult.
There are a handful of other skills with which to equip your employees if they are to make practical use of this session. For example, rather than reacting immediately to the negative feedback, the recipient may need time to digest what they heard. Let them know they can take time — a few minutes or even, in the right situations, the next day — to consider what they heard before responding. It can also be helpful for them to take notes during the session or make notes afterward, so they can study it objectively. And though in training managers on giving feedback you will already have taught them the importance of providing concrete examples, employees should know that they can and should request specifics if none are volunteered.
For a quick refresher of how employees should handle negative feedback, including some of the points above, have a look through this visual guide.