Sarah Hanson: Giving Negative Feedback

How can you deliver negative feedback on a team members’ performance without demotivating them? Sarah Hanson, partner at Interactifs, enables business people to be clearer speakers and more effective listeners.  She's penned our Expert's Corner article this quarter, and she'll be leading a webinar for PWN Global in November on 'How to Start a Difficult Conversation'. 

Sarah says...

When it comes to managing people, long-term, high-quality relationships based on mutual respect and trust are the standard to which we should all aspire.  In this context, what advice can be given to managers to help broach the difficult topic of underperformance in a way that’s productive and impactful, while ensuring they don’t damage the relationship or demotivate the team member?

Rule 1. Avoid value judgments

As a manager and your personal opinion is valuable.  Talking from your own position, e.g.  “I’m not comfortable with this way of doing things” or “I’d like you to write reports in a different way” and your colleague will likely be more receptive to listening.  Acting like the Guardian of the Truth, by making value judgments such as “This isn’t the right way to go about things” or “That’s not how a report should be written” will switch off the other person and produce an unhelpful counter argument.

Rule 2. Focus on the future not the past

Be clear throughout the meeting that it is not about criticising the past, it is about constructing for the future.  Favour requests over reproaches: “I need you to do this” rather than “you really shouldn’t have done that”.  The other person will be defensive when confronted with a reproach about the past; they will find it very difficult to be defensive when confronted with a request for the future. 

Starting the meeting

Preparing the key elements below to structure your approach to the conversation will ensure you’re able to present your case in a way that increases your chances of being heard and of your colleague being receptive to change.

  1. Decide what you want from the meeting
  2. Prepare your case (in the light of the outcome you’ve chosen)
  3. Think about how having this meeting makes you feel  


Decide what you want

You’ll be more effective in a meeting when you have a clear idea of your destination.  You should make a distinction between business goals (measurable next week, next month, next quarter) and meeting goals, measurable at the end of the meeting. Only by having a clear goal for the meeting will you conclude the conversation knowing exactly where you both are relative to that goal. What do you want your team member to say or do at the end of the meeting? Or what do you want to produce together?

Prepare your case

Having decided on your goals, what will you have prepared / thought about before the meeting which makes it reasonable for you to suppose you can achieve those goals? You’ll need to explain what you want doing differently in the future and you’ll need to have brought along YOUR ideas for discussion. 

Think about how having the meeting makes you feel

Based on your knowledge of the other person and the relationship you have with them - how will you feel about having the meeting and in particular about announcing your goals?  How you feel about having the meeting will be very different according to your personality and the personality of the person opposite. Being able to articulate openly how you feel will make it easier for you to tackle difficult subjects, it will create empathy and help to establish an atmosphere of openness which will then inform the whole conversation.

Use these elements to start the meeting

Here’s an example of how using those elements – in the opposite order to that in which you prepared them – will help you to start the meeting in a way that’s both direct and respectful:


Helen, I’m conscious I have some stuff to say in this meeting which you may not like hearing; but I feel the only feedback worth giving is honest feedback – and also that as long as I make sure this meeting is about focusing on the future and not revisiting the past then I’m hopeful we can create a change in the way we work together.  I’ve thought about what I’m happy with; and also about the things I’d like you to do differently in the future – and why.  I’ve put together my thoughts for turning things round to ensure your next appraisal is a positive one.  I’m keen to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject too.  I want to leave today having achieved two things: one, for us to have agreed together on a concrete plan for ensuring we’re both much happier with the way things are going in 6 months’ time; and two, for you then to assure me that you’re ready and motivated to execute that plan to the best of your ability.   How do those sound to you as goals for this meeting?


Sarah's Bio

Sarah HansonSarah Hanson enables business people to be clearer speakers and more effective listeners.  She has spent the last two years teaching clients to increase their productivity levels while reducing their stress levels - giving them more influence and making them more impactful in meetings and conversations both inside and outside their organisations.

Having spent the early part of her career in corporate HR roles, Sarah started consulting for herself after having her family.  Soon after she discovered Interactifs, a professional training company that works with business people around the world to improve professional relationships with colleagues, clients and prospects.  

From there she hasn’t looked back!  Having recently moved with her husband and daughter from South East London to South West Scotland, she’s now on a mission to share the core principles of the Interactifs approach with a broader audience.

For more information on how to say what you think in a way that is precise, concise and is still being nice, take a look at the Interactifs website.

What Interactifs Do

Interactifs teaches people, at any level and in any function, to save time, improve their meetings and strengthen their professional relationships.

In any business, meetings and conversations are the essential catalyst for getting things done and for developing meaningful relationships.  But the productivity of those meetings is invariably limited by the inability of people to be direct without being abrupt, to be polite without being long-winded.  

Being able to combine directness with courtesy builds better, more respectful relationships, produces more concrete results and does both of those more rapidly.  Difficult subjects can be broached immediately rather than put off.  Meetings (and relationships) are no longer polluted by the unsaid, the implicit or invitations to read between the lines.  

 Don't forget, to sign up for Sarah's Webinar on Thurday 15th November 2018


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