by ROBERT MILLIGAN
I find the traditional view of feedback as positive or negative to be inadequate. When behavior is inappropriate or performance unacceptable, there are two very different causes – the situation or the person’s behavior. The two causes require very different feedback; thus the need for three types of feedback – positive, redirection or negative.
It is crucial to distinguish between redirection and negative feedback when performance or behavioral expectations are not met. The key to great feedback is providing feedback appropriate to the performance. Appropriate means the feedback must correctly communicate the supervisor’s assessment of the employee’s performance. It is difficult to provide the appropriate feedback when expectations are not met or when performance is “unsuccessful.” A critical choice between redirection and negative feedback is needed.
Redirection feedback is the correct choice when the reason for the “unsuccessful” performance is the context of the performance. Negative feedback is the correct choice when the “unsuccessful” performance cannot be explained by the situation; it can only be explained by the personal characteristics of the employee. He or she did not have sufficient motivation to complete the task, or did not concentrate sufficiently to complete the actions on time.
The challenge of any choice, in this case redirection or negative, is that the wrong choice can be made. In this case, the wrong choice of providing negative feedback when redirection is the right choice is both common and potentially disastrous. Think of a recent example when someone blamed you personally (provided negative feedback) when you felt the culprit was the situation or context (should have received redirection feedback). You were likely upset, frustrated or angry. This scenario evoke a strong reaction, because we believe we have been treated unfairly. Anytime feelings of unfairness appear, the relationship is damaged.
Providing effective redirection feedback is difficult. You are telling the person they did not fulfill the expectations, but they were not the cause of the failure. Something prevented them from meeting the expectation – lack of training/supervising, inadequate resources, something unexpected, or an unrealistic goal.
The challenge is to communicate that change is required without them becoming defensive or feeling treated unfairly. An effective approach is to ask questions, rather than tell them they need to change. Below is a short dialog with an employee who is completing new tasks too slowly. The supervisor believes they are making every effort to succeed, so redirection feedback is appropriate:
Supervisor: How do you think you are doing with the new tasks?
Supervisor: Are you completing the tasks as quickly as you would like?
Employee: I think I’m doing fine, but I suppose I will speed up with practice.
Supervisor: What is keeping you from going faster?
Employee: I probably just need practice. Now that you are asking, there are a couple of tasks I really do not completely understand.
Supervisor: Let’s carefully review them …
Most of us are more familiar with negative feedback. It too must be provided correctly. Keeping in mind that the purpose of all feedback, including negative, is employee success is not always easy. The key to providing effective negative feedback is to view yourself as providing the employee a choice. He or she can choose
1. To change their behavior and/or performance to meet expectations (or)
2. Incur the consequence that you have specified for the inappropriate behavior or unacceptable performance
Although still not easy, most managers find thinking of negative feedback as a choice is easy than thinking of providing a reprimand.
Providing quality feedback
To provide great feedback, first reject the traditional view of feedback as positive or negative to be inadequate. Second, recognize that when behavior is inappropriate or performance unacceptable, there are two very different causes – the situation or the person’s behavior. The two causes require very different feedback. Third, consider the choice between redirection and negative feedback very carefully.