How to give negative feedback, without a ‘dose of sugar’

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Many project managers find it difficult to give negative feedback to a team member. No one wants to hurt feelings and potentially ruin personal relationships. It can be tempting, instead, to "sugarcoat" the feedback and mix it in with some positive remarks to make the team member feel better.

But that could be a bad idea, according to a recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog.

Contributor Steven Berglas argues that it's better for project managers to deliver the bad news straight, in order to encourage team members to fix their mistakes.

"Mary Poppins don't know squat," he writes. "A spoonful of sugar does not help the 'medicine' go down. Who hasn't been enraged by a putz who wanted to deliver criticism and started his spiel by saying, 'With all due respect, Adam…' Don't folks know that in the argot of the business world, 'with all due respect' means 'screw you'?"

His evidence? Berglas points to the work of Dr. Edward Jones, a psychologist who found that managers who began their evaluations with criticism immediately won more respect from those under them than managers who focused on the positives.

This doesn't mean that managers should be rude when they offer feedback, and they should certainly offer constructive suggestions for how team members can improve. But managers are more likely to get the desired results by being straight with people.

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