A better way to process negative feedback

How good is your boss at giving you feedback? Does he or she send you concrete messages about your performances in times to be useful? Few people feel they are given enough useful feedback in time to help them succeed and develop. Worse: when they do receive feedback, accurate criticism is sometimes poorly delivered. In that case, it can mislead, wound, and even paralyse the person receiving the message, unless he or she is skilled at processing it.

by John Weeks and Fernando Bartolome
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

To avoid such consequences, John Weeks, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at INSEAD and Fernando Bartolomé from Instituto de Empresa, explain how one can transform negative feedback that one receives into something helpful.

Many managers feel uncomfortable praising others and especially dislike criticizing. Most find giving negative feedback difficult to do well. Recognizing this, organizations have provided training for managers to help them get better at identifying the performance gaps and development needs of their employees, and coaching the latter to perform better through constructive criticism.

Meanwhile, the increasing use in companies of 'force ranking' performance measurements systems means that people are giving each other more negative feedback than ever before.

The authors of this paper have done some thorough research among executives attending development courses at INSEAD, to know what negative feed back to listen to, and how to listen to it, avoiding ignorance or hypersensitivity. They explain why it takes a solid ego to listen to criticism without being hypnotized by it, and the importance for people to learn to identify their strengths and to value their achievements.

Throughout their demonstration, the authors stress that making useful sense of low-quality negative feedback is difficult but of vital importance. Along the way, they give the readers valuable tips on how to improve the way we process poorly delivered feedback rather than waiting for others to improve the way they give it.

Exploring human reactions, Weeks and Bartolomé stress that managers receive so much feedback from others that they lose the ability of self-assessment. Ironically, it is precisely that ability that is a key requirement for developing the skills of filtering, listening to, and learning from the feedback of others.

INSEAD July 2006

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