Few people come to work to do a bad job. Mistakes and errors usually arise because of weaknesses in working processes – workloads are stretched; skills, experience or training are lacking; operating procedures are poorly defined, impractical or unenforced. In general, these issues are not the fault of the person doing the job.
Feedback, should, therefore, focus on the weaknesses in the system, not on the character failings of the individual (which will be resented).
It is just as important to give positive feedback where it is due, as well as negative feedback where it is needed.
Relate the feedback you give (positive or negative) to a specific event or action, and describe in detail the context and what was good (or not) and why. We learn better when feedback is relevant and directed at specific actions or activities.
The general rule is to give positive feedback before negative because many people become blinded by the negative feedback and don’t absorb what comes after. Nevertheless, this should be used with care because people can get wise to it in a way that means that positive feedback is not received in the spirit it is intended, but becomes a warning signal for negative feedback to follow!
Negative feedback can be hard to impart, particularly if you work closely with the recipient. But negative feedback is not the same as a disciplinary warning. Rather it should be a constructive discussion about what went wrong, why, and what the actions should be to ensure it never happens again. As noted, people rarely set out to make a mistake; and we usually know when we have messed up, or something has gone wrong. Negative feedback shouldn’t be a surprise; the key thing is to structure it so it has a mutually positive and empowering outcome, rather than a demoralising one. There are six elements to this:
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