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How to Give Negative Feedback With Emotional Intelligence

A simple change that transforms the perception of your feedback from harmful to helpful.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I was a young manager, I used to hate the thought of giving negative feedback to those on my team.

“What if it doesn’t go well?” I’d ask myself. “What if they completely miss the point? Or, worse yet, what if they get upset?”

Those were valuable concerns, because it almost never feels good when we’re on the receiving end of critical feedback.

Almost never.

“Almost,” because over the years I’ve learned there’s a way to frame your feedback that completely changes the way others receive it, and it hinges on a single, very powerful word:

Constructive.

I spoke recently to Chris Colaco, a feedback expert and founder of the company 1 Minute Feedback. Colaco explained why this simple word can make all the difference when it comes time to deliver feedback to your people.

Colaco explains that in most cases, the word feedback carries a negative connotation or feeling. Just think of the feeling that runs down your spine when someone says: “Can I give you some feedback?” or “I’d like to share some feedback with you.”

Now, let’s insert the magic word, and notice how the feeling changes:

“Can I give you some constructive feedback?”

“By inserting the word constructive before the word feedback, you go a long way to changing the perception of the word feedback from something that’s negative to something that has a positive, helpful connotation,” says Colaco.

Colaco is absolutely right, and his advice has a firm foundation in emotional intelligence.

WHAT’S EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Put simply, it’s the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Of course, from an EQ-perspective, it’s important that the primary type of feedback you deliver is sincere and specific commendation. That’s because consistent positive feedback helps to build a culture of “psychological safety.” This is an environment where employees feel safe to take risks, to be themselves, to offer up new ideas, and even to make mistakes.

In other words, a psychologically safe environment is one that’s based on trust–trust that your team leaders and colleagues are on your side and have got your back.

But while praise and commendation help build trust, at times we need to share feedback on how to improve. It’s the only way any of us can grow.

Here’s where the word constructive can really help.

When you ask those on your team for permission to share constructive feedback with them, they’ll be all ears. Since you’ve already established that your intent is to help, not harm, they’ll be eager to put into practice whatever you have to share.

You’re not the clueless boss or the colleague who just doesn’t get it. You’re someone who offers value, someone who can make them better.

It simply doesn’t get more constructive than that.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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