FROM THE BLOG

The Importance of Negative Feedback

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In case you didn’t know, today is “National Honesty Day.” (It also happens to be “Adopt a Shelter Pet Day,” “Bugs Bunny Day,” “Hairstylist Appreciation Day,” “Oatmeal Cookie Day,” “Raisin Day,” “Sarcoidosis Day,” and “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” and while a number of those are terribly important—I mean, cookies!–we’ll focus on honesty for now.)

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but…

To be honest, we all need to be a little better about giving negative feedback. Yes—according to this 99u article, we are shortchanging ourselves and our colleagues in sidestepping those less-than-comfy-conversations about what’s not working well. And while I generally like to keep it positive, as someone who receives constructive criticism on a daily basis (it’s part of the design process, after all), I think the piece has some good takeaways about how and when negative feedback can benefit an organization or outcome.

Be careful, not cruel

Actually, a lot of the article’s recommendations remind me of how we try to provide feedback to our kids. For example, criticizing the process rather than the person is likely to be better received while avoiding hurtful internalization. Also, it seems obvious, but don’t be a passive aggressive jerk—subtle digs or “backhanded compliments” intended to ease the sting will most likely just hurt worse. Be clear, be honest, speak about the process error, and offer suggestions about next steps.

Don’t be good—get better

How we receive negative feedback (and consequently offer it) may tie into our mindset: are you a “be good” or a “get better” kind of person? In her 99u talk, Heidi Grant Halvorson talks about how when we make the switch from being a “be good” person (one who is out to prove him/herself and demonstrate a superior skill set relative to others) to a “get better” mindset (where one focuses on improving, developing new skills, and comparing him or herself only to his or her past self), we are much better equipped to handle the stresses of change, and of course, the challenge of receiving negative feedback and understanding what to do with it. Is your organization structured with a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset? Fostering a growth mindset culture could enable the entire organization to feel safe being honest about both successes and failures.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…figure out how to respectfully say that, too

Perhaps these things are on my mind a lot lately since at our house, I’m daily being schooled in the fine art of toddler negotiations. But I also know that in my professional life, I’m eager to people-please, and have struggled to provide honest feedback when what I have to say isn’t so nice. We hear it our entire lives, after all: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But maybe I can get better at being more straight-forward when it’s called for, while still being clear about my level of respect for the person with whom I’m working. I owe it to them, I owe it to the organization or project, and I owe it to myself.

How do you handle negative feedback from your peers? How good are you at providing it to others?

(Alright. Now that that’s out of the way, time for cookies.)

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