Tips for giving and receiving negative feedback

When team safety is on the line, Service Members need to give and receive negative feedback about their performance. Negative feedback gives you an opportunity to better understand how you can improve your performance, better align with team goals, and promote team health and safety.

Receiving negative feedback from leadership

Every Service Member goes through a training period, which provides plenty of opportunities to receive negative feedback about their performance. Even though it’s expected during training, negative feedback is also crucial for duty-related performance. When a Service Member doesn’t perform well, leaders tend to focus on giving negative feedback to those who need it most. That means if you do perform well, you might not get as much negative feedback and might need to seek it out. Your performance can only benefit by taking initiative to understand your strengths and weaknesses and striving for improvement—even if you already handle your duties well.

Tips for receiving feedback­­

  • Put your ego aside. Receiving negative feedback can be a threat to your ego, making you want to blame someone or something else. Try not to view negative feedback as a threat, but instead as a chance for personal growth. This mindset shift can help you recognize how to use the gift of feedback, whether you use it immediately or at a later time.
  • Listen. Once you’ve put your ego aside, you can open the door to carefully listen to the feedback. Even if you might disagree with the negative feedback you receive, listening to it gives you the opportunity to view how others perceive you and your performance.
  • Focus on the team. View negative feedback as an opportunity to improve your performance to benefit the team. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so when one person grows stronger, the team grows stronger. Negative feedback is a way for team members to learn how they can improve for the sake of the team’s safety, optimal performance, and overall supportive work environment.

Giving negative feedback to leadership

Service Members who communicate negative feedback to those in leadership positions can actually improve leader development. Typically, there’s no change in leader ratings after they get positive feedback because they aren’t given constructive advice for improvement. But leader ratings often improve after receiving negative feedback from Service Members. This could be because those leaders are made aware of their weaknesses, which might contrast with how they want to be perceived. As a result, leaders apply negative feedback when setting goals to improve their leadership skills.

Tips for providing meaningful feedback

  • Feedback should be specific, direct, and timely. Delivering negative feedback can feel awkward, so leaders often try to soften the blow by speaking indirectly about a Service Member’s performance. But the person receiving the feedback might not know exactly how to improve their performance based on indirect criticism. To preserve the recipient’s self-worth, begin with praise. Then, deliver the negative feedback directly, and give specific details and examples—ideally, as close to the negative behavior as possible so the feedback is timely and relevant. When you provide specific details and examples, be sure to avoid absolutes, such as “always” and “never.” Also, try to give feedback in a nonjudgmental tone.
  • Follow the BEAR model. The BEAR model is a way to provide constructive feedback.
    • B–Behavior: Focus on the Service Member’s behavior. Give specific and detailed observations of negative (or nonproductive) performance.
    • E–Effect: Explain the effect of the behavior. It can help to focus on how the behavior affects the team so the Service Member can see how their specific behavior impacts others.
    • A–Alternative: Describe alternatives to the Service Member’s current behavior. Explain how those alternatives might benefit the team. And give a timeframe in which you’d like to see those behavioral changes.
    • R–Result: Help the Service Member set SMART goals to achieve the result of a behavior change. It might help them to picture the consequences of what could happen if a different behavior isn’t adopted or how the team could improve with the behavior change.

Giving and receiving negative feedback can feel threatening to your ego, but it gets easier with practice. Ultimately, when you focus on self-improvement and the impact it has on the team, you can give and receive negative feedback graciously and set goals to improve your performance.

Published on: February 2, 2023

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