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Turning a negative into a positive

How many times have you been in a position where you have had to deliver feedback that was negative – or constructive (the new negative)?  Perhaps you managed a team that included one or two members that underperformed.  Perhaps you needed to address something that went off the rails in a project.  Perhaps, in a volunteer role, you needed to offer advice or direction to a group or person who was unreceptive, indifferent or, even worse, belligerent.  Even as a board member, you may have needed to speak up about a touchy topic.  And anyone who has a family of any kind – be it kids, parents, sibs or just a close friend – knows that we’ve all needed to speak our minds about some topic or action that has rubbed us the wrong way.

Having been in many of the above situations myself as the giver (and perhaps even more often as the recipient) of negative feedback, I’ve gleaned a few tricks to turn negatives into positives.  I hope these help you in your day to day activities the way they now help me.

  1. Always start the conversation with something positive. 
    No matter how awful the conduct, or incompetent the work product, there is always some nugget of good that you can pull out.  Assume the best.  Most folks are well intentioned, put in the requisite effort and want a positive outcome.  Focusing on the positive as you enter the conversation can set the tone for a much more productive exchange about the things that do need improvement.
  2. Use the situation as a teaching moment.
    As they say, you learn from your mistakes.  Help others do the same by helping them not only understand what they may have done wrong but, more importantly, how they could have done better or acted differently.
  3. Share other perspectives.
    People often better understand the impact of their actions by seeing it from the perspective of others.  Take the time to demonstrate how others may be affected.
  4. Empathize. 
    We’ve all been in that place where we were on the receiving end of constructive guidance.  It is important to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end.  Empathize if possible, or at the very least, be compassionate.
  5. Don’t get frustrated by excuses.
    With criticism often comes excuses.  It is human nature to defend one’s actions.  Don’t get frustrated when the excuses come out. Accept the other person’s perspective – but be sure that yours is understood as well.

I hope you find these tips useful the next time you have to have one of those difficult conversations.

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Turning a negative into a positive

  1. Ah, a new and valuable variation on the recipe for the classic “feedback sandwich” where you sandwich the criticism between two slices of praise. Good stuff – thanks for sharing.

  2. It is trite, but the adage “you can catch more flies with honey” is true! (This coming from someone who is not proud to admit that in a former position, many years ago, I made someone cry by delivering some not so nice feedback on a project. I learned my lesson.)

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