Offer a compliment, or give the bad news first?

Question to agony aunt:  “When giving negative feedback, is it better to start with the admonition and end with a compliment, or vice versa?”.  (Gillian Peall, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK)

First answer: “Definitely give the compliment first. Knowing you have done something right may make the negative feedback more acceptable. Giving the bad news first can make the compliment seem patronising or condescending.”   (Julia Barrett, Oakhill, Somerset, UK)

Second answer: “When I ran my company, I used a technique called sandwich criticism. You start by commenting on something good about the person, then move to the negative and finish on a positive. If you start with a negative, a person’s defences go up and they can hardly hear anything else you say. This is also true about the use of “but” or “however” as they are triggers for defensive behaviours.    There are those who say that this method is rather stale and can sound contrived, but it is up to you to make sure that it isn’t.    (Ron Dippold, San Diego, California)

Third answer: “It depends on the severity of the issue, and the sensitivity of the recipient. A repeat bad actor will grasp any compliment as a straw to continue their behavior, so it may be counterproductive.

12055345767968669487.jpgFor best results, the answer is to do both, also known as bookending. Offer a compliment, give the admonition, describe what bad effects it has for them and other people, then end with the positive benefits of fixing the issue.”.  (Robert Willis, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada)

Fourth answer:   “Various studies have found that employees want more feedback, not less. A global survey by OfficeVibe in 2016 found that 82 per cent of employees appreciate feedback, whether it is positive or negative.   Standard advice used to be to “sandwich” negative feedback between positive comments. This has been shown to be less than effective: employees quickly recognise that the positives are only window dressing and so all comments are considered dubious and disingenuous.

”Tactful honesty is the best approach. Being direct and polite makes employees feel respected. Constructive criticism offers both a critique and a solution. Research shows that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Learning appropriate people skills can go a long way“.  (Tim Lewis, Landshipping,Pembrokeshire, UK)

Fifth answer:    The classical sandwich of praise, criticism, praise often fails as the employees cotton on. Asking the employee if they are open to feedback and then asking them for comments on their own behaviour or performance, good or bad, is more productive.   (Terry Gillen, Tring, Hertfordshire, UK)

Sixth answer:    “Neither. The problem with mixing praise and criticism is that the feedback becomes “contaminated”, causing confusion. A more effective approach is to begin with an objective acknowledgement with which both parties can agree. Then state clearly the change you want, and finally provide a reason to make the change.

”As I said to my son once when he was very young and angry with me: “When you speak to me like that, I have difficulty listening to you. If you take a few deep breaths and say it again in your normal tone of voice, I promise I’ll listen.”.  (Simon Phillips, London, UK)

Seventh answer:   I’ve spent countless hours in training sessions on giving feedback. One thing seems clear: the order in which you give feedback doesn’t really matter. What’s important are your intentions and soft skills.

  •  Do you genuinely want to help the other person by kindly indicating where improvements could be made?
  • Are you sensitive to the other person’s feelings? Can you see their point of view or sense when someone is becoming defensive? If the conversational flow needs to change, do you have the words ready to effect that change? Can you be funny or engaging? Can you use eye contact and friendly body language to reassure?

“If you can master such skills, the order in which you deliver feedback becomes irrelevant.”   (Pauline Grant, Business psychologist, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK)

12055345767968669487.jpgAnd from the agony aunt: ”Please consider carefully if feedback is needed at all. If someone has behaved in a way you judge to be substandard or inappropriate, check first how they view the situation. Ask questions – real, open questions – and listen to the answers.

”Mostly we know when we have made a mistake, and someone else pointing it out is at best unnecessary and at worst deeply patronising. If they don’t know that they have made a mistake, it may be that a conversation is appropriate.  The result will tell you if your feedback is likely to be helpful. Finally, being open and humble will always help with the outcome.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.