Workzone: Finding the positive in negative feedback

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No one likes to get bad news and, as help­ful or con­struc­tive as it may be in­tended, crit­i­cism can be dif­fi­cult to hear.

When the boss gives a neg­a­tive as­sess­ment of work or job per­for­mance, there are ways — short of quit­ting your job al­to­gether — to try to cre­ate a pos­i­tive out­come.

“First and fore­most, you should try to take the time to un­der­stand where the neg­a­tive feed­back comes from,” said Piera Pal­az­zolo, of New York City-based Dale Car­ne­gie Train­ing. “You can ac­tu­ally learn more from that type of feed­back, if you re­ally take the time to lis­ten.”

As with most work­place in­ter­ac­tions, Ms. Pal­az­zolo said, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is cru­cial when try­ing to move on from a bad per­for­mance re­view. “En­gage­ment re­search shows us that most em­ploy­ees point to their re­la­tion­ship with their im­me­di­ate su­per­vi­sor as the key to be­ing en­gaged at work,” she said.

Part of that com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­quires boss and em­ployee to agree on what the goals or ex­pec­ta­tions for work are, and how they will be met.

Break­ing down the feed­back will mean try­ing to un­der­stand what you could do dif­fer­ently go­ing for­ward, she said. Try to seek an open di­a­logue and an im­prove­ment plan that in­cludes reg­u­lar feed­back from the boss, so if ob­sta­cles arise, they can be han­dled be­fore they cause de­lays or other prob­lems.

And as a man­ager, there are good ways — or at least, less bad ways — to de­liver bad news.

“You should al­ways start with a pos­i­tive” when crit­i­ciz­ing an em­ployee’s per­for­mance, Ms. Pal­az­zolo said. “Be­fore you say, ‘This was due Mon­day and it was three days late,’ you should start with some­thing like, ‘You have a great way of talk­ing to peo­ple.’ And as a su­per­vi­sor, you need to have spe­cif­ics.”

Once you’ve told the em­ployee what the prob­lems are, sug­gest solu­tions, Ms. Pal­az­zolo added. “You’re the su­per­vi­sor; you have to be able to pro­vide the sup­port needed to thrive and suc­ceed.”

For in­stance, rather than put­ting some­one on the de­fen­sive about a fail­ure to meet dead­lines, as­cer­tain whether the em­ployee has too much on his or her plate, or if he or she is a per­fec­tion­ist who lin­gers too long on a proj­ect. “You should be ask­ing, ‘What can we do to help you meet dead­lines,’ or be ask­ing whether they need help with time man­age­ment skills.”

If the neg­a­tive feed­back keeps com­ing de­spite ef­forts to change or adapt, it may be worth tak­ing a step back to as­sess whether the prob­lems can re­ally be solved.

“If you are at a place where you have ca­reer growth and you like your job, even if your re­la­tion­ship with your boss isn’t per­fect, you should try to make the best of it,” she said. “But if your boss is re­peat­edly neg­a­tive and you’re not see­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow, then you may need to cut your losses.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solu­tion to a neg­a­tive work­place sit­u­a­tion, Ms. Palaz­zolo said, and it is hard to be ob­jec­tive in the face of crit­i­cism that can feel so per­sonal. “If you can look past the bias and rec­og­nize maybe there is some­thing there, maybe there are some per­for­mance is­sues, it will only help you in the long run.”

Kim Lyons: kly­ons@post-ga­ or 412-263-1241.

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