My Mum used to say “positive, positive, negative, positive”. It’s a variant of the once popular feedback sandwich – with its simpler “positive, negative, positive” formula.
Of course my Mum also taught me the avoid saying anything approach: “if you don’t have a kind word to say, don’t say it”.
All designed to not hurt anyone’s feelings.
But what’s a boss to do? If someone isn’t measuring up, he/she needs to know about it. It’s not a matter of not hurting someone’s feelings. Pragmatism and the bottom line win. This is business and the job needs to be done.
Is there a way you can deliver the not so positive feedback and reduce the emotional consequences and relational risks?
First it helps to understand why the feedback sandwich is not so tasty. It’s not such a neat trick now everyone knows about it. You tend to know when you’re being softened up with a positive before the negative. It feels disingenuous. Or you might be so pleased with the positives, that the negative barely registers.
Here’s a better way to go (and what I promised to share last post):
I stumbled upon this one by accident – I heard it on the grapevine that Betty, my team member, was saying:
“Michelle is a total B of a boss. Don’t work for her if you can help it.”
The lesson? It’s not a good idea to bag your boss, even if you think it’ll never get back to her. As happened with Betty, it just might!
The problem was, I couldn’t think of a clever way to nip it in the bud without making matters worse. So I waited. The third time it happened I worked it out. Every time I gave Betty a stretch assignment she felt out of her depth and didn’t handle it well. And I didn’t realize that I’d thrown her too much into the deep end.
But once I worked it out, I asked her into my office, closed the door (a signal this was serious) and put it to her straight:
- I told her what I knew and that it wasn’t ok…she went beetroot and apologised
- I told her I noticed it happened every time I gave her a stretch assignment…she didn’t realize this herself
- I told her I only gave her the stretch assignments because I thought she was capable…true, and she beamed.
And then we talked about how we’d handle this in future. I’d provide more support and she’d come to me rather than gossip. Let’s just say it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
- Carefully think about the feedback you’re going to give – what you will say and how. This is someone’s career you’re impacting.
- I like to think of it as an open sandwich…start with what you specifically like that they’re doing and why you like it, and follow that with what specific behaviour you’d like to see more of. The idea is to be straight, clear and transparent. There’s nothing hidden in an open sandwich.
- Don’t patronize – negative feedback isn’t easy to hear. Aim to frame the feedback as what you’d like to see more of rather than what you want less of, it’s much easier to digest that way. If you can show that you’re not perfect either, and have room for improvement too, that can help.
- Be authentic – only say things you mean. Your body language and non-verbal behaviour will likely betray you otherwise. Again, the open sandwich.
- Focus on one area for improvement to start with if you can. Behavior change is hard enough at the best of times. One step at a time.
- Finish with a clear action plan.
One thing I didn’t do that time which is also a good idea, is to ask permission to give the feedback. It gives the receiver a feeling of some control and that should also help them be more receptive to what you have to say.
How does feedback go at your workplace? I hope there are no stale feedback sandwiches being served!