Can negative feedback, delivered constructively, actually help keep people engaged? In Behance’s research, we have come across many teams that use the power of appreciations more than constructive feedback when it comes to developing people. The whole movement of helping people capitalize on their strengths has changed the way many managers function. However, there may also be ways of delivering constructive (aka negative) feedback that is encouraging rather than upsetting.
While at Goldman Sachs, I heard an anecdote about then-CEO Hank Paulson. Paulson had gone to visit a big client with one of his subordinates. The more junior Goldman Sachs banker had done a horrible job in the meeting – and it was clear that he was underprepared. Upon leaving the client, the junior person was walking to the elevator with Hank - nervous as ever and thinking that his career was now doomed. As the elevator doors closed, Hank turned to him and said, quite simply, "You're better than that." And this was all he ever said on the matter.
“You’re better than that” was all that had to be said. It was a way of delivering negative feedback in an encouraging way. Having high expectations of your team is a good thing. And, in turn, they should have high expectations of you. When the ball is dropped, confrontation is often necessary. Consider taking the angle of surprise and concern that one is not living up to his or her potential. Anyone who cares about their work will be engaged with a desire to return to their great heights.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.