Managers are often faced with the responsibility of having difficult conversations with their employees which usually entail feedback about the quality of the work produced. Regardless of the purpose of this criticism, some employees have a difficult time dealing with it. According to Clinical Psychologist, Lerato Mathibela, the ability to accept this kind of feedback varies from person to person and depends on the manager’s relationship with the employee. For a lot of people, this kind of feedback can be demotivating especially considering the amount of time and effort they spent on a project. For those who fall into this category, all is not lost.
How to positively communicate negative feedback:
Considering how necessary yet challenging conversations about unsatisfactory work may be, sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. Mathibela suggests that feedback in the work environment has more to do with what’s wrong and what should be done right while equally pointing out what was done correctly. She says that the balance shows that the work was fairly assessed which results in the overall criticism not only being constructive but motivating.
She also recommends that managers do behavioural/emotional scaffolding which Mathibela describes as a process “where you assist a person to grow within that area [they’re struggling with], [and] slowly but surely help them develop confidence,”.
This way one is not constantly giving negative feedback because “it creates a sense of anxiety”. In the same breath, there are instances where there is nothing positive to draw from the work and Mathibela says it’s important to then understand the employees’ emotional wellbeing, quality of life and how they’re coping with work.
“Go into their views and their thoughts about the work they’ve delivered, how they feel and what they think about it, what was enjoyable and challenging about it,” says Mathibela. Additionally she counsels drawing positivity from their previous work while still making them aware of the flaws in their current work.
Asking questions about the feedback vs being defensive:
Mathibela says employees tend to be defensive when criticised about their work instead of earnestly asking questions.
“When you ask questions, ask them from a point of trying to understand what is required from you, where you missed your mark in terms of the task at hand, and [make sure] they’re relevant to the feedback that’s given,” she advises.
Mathibela says this is also where you can seek mentorship. At the same time, there are times when an employee might feel that they executed the project accordingly. In these instances Mathibela says, “give examples that relate directly to your work and the research you have done and show how that [appears] in your work”.
Working under new conditions has so far resulted in additional responsibilities – work and domestic wise. Sometimes employees might struggle to move away from the internal negativity that is a result of the negative feedback.
Self-awareness on these occasions is crucial because it helps know where you are in life along with your strengths and weaknesses.
“It means that you have the ability to know what it is that you can deliver and to what extent” explains Mathibela.
Managers need to create a more empathic work environment where they match a work challenge with support.
“It should be done in a manner that helps the person grow [and affirms their abilities],” Mathibela says. The support will differ because of current conditions. In the same breath, she advises employees to speak up about challenges that affect their work and specify the type of support they need.
According to Mathibela employees often internalise the feedback and take it personally instead of using it as a stepping-stone to growth. It is important to remember that instead of internalising certain types of criticism, one should try to take it as a push to improve. After all, when diamonds look back on the heat and pressure they had to endure while they were lumps of coal, they realise that it was all worth it.