It’s great to give positive feedback to employees. In fact, managers don’t give enough of it.

But in some instances, what employees need most is not praise but a very candid description of a deficit that’s hurting both the organization and the employee. That’s called “negative feedback,” and we’re not running away from the term “negative.”

Here’s how we define it: Negative feedback is helpful input that highlights a deficit and encourages the person to correct it.

Negative but helpful
Notice two key thoughts in that definition: First, the word “helpful.” Negative feedback doesn’t imply you’re beating someone down. When delivered properly, it’s more akin to a gift than a punishment. It creates awareness of a problem the person probably didn’t realize he or she had.

The definition also contains the phrase “encourages the person to correct it,” which 1) emphasizes that the feedback has a clear purpose; and 2) assumes the giver believes the recipient can overcome the deficit. That’s a very positive message for a person getting “negative” feedback.

The shape of CHANGE
So what’s the most effective way to deliver that message? Check out the method below, which we call the CHANGE model:

CH: CONCERN and HELP – When giving negative feedback, it’s important to communicate that the employee’s behavior or performance is a matter of concern to you and that you need the person’s help. This works because it not only lets the employee know that there is a situation for which he or she must take responsibility, but that the emotional burden of such a difficult conversation is shared – that you’re in this together.

A: ARTICULATE the problem – Lay out the problem in a “just the facts” way – telling the employee what he or she has done, and what the results have been. For instance, “your team is 20% behind on our performance indicators.” No moral judgments, but also no room to argue.

N: NOTE the reaction – Ask the employee for a reaction to these facts. If the person accepts what you’ve said, there’s room to work on the problem; but if the reaction is extreme denial, give them a day or so to reflect. If the employee still won’t accept your feedback, you may have to consider termination, or perhaps a transfer to a position of lesser responsibility.

G: GAIN agreement – Reach a mutual decision about the next step. This may include such solutions as sending the employee for a course on managerial styles or providing increased coaching. Whatever the potential remedy, it’s vital that you arrive at it together.

E: ENCOURAGE the heart – While the preceding three steps were about logic, “E” is all about emotion. You must encourage the employee, make clear that they’re not “damaged goods” and assure them that you strongly believe they can make the necessary changes and become the employee you know they can be.

Naturally, this method isn’t guaranteed to set every employee straight. Some employees won’t take the feedback well, and some won’t be able to overcome the issues that got them to this point.

But the CHANGE model is an effective way to deliver feedback so as to give employees a real chance to clean up their acts and be of renewed benefit to the organization.

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