In the course of managing our projects there comes a time in our personal interactions where the project manager will have to provide feedback and may even have to say something negative to the person they are dealing with. There may also be the case where they have to say something negative to say to you. I prefer to call it constructive criticism/feedback rather than negative but many people refer to it as negative.
You may find that many people become embarrassed, distressed, and even angered by this criticism/feedback. Too often relationships can become strained and work can even be disrupted. However, there are some people who are able to transform these moments into opportunities for success. They are able to take this information and enhance their work skills, relationships and continue to advance, develop and grow professionally.
Acknowledge the need for criticism/feedback
It is the main way to know what things need to improve. It is vital to the success of the project team and its members. Giving and receiving criticism/feedback should become the “culture” of the project team.
It is very important that the team should agree that giving and receiving feedback is an acceptable part of how you will work together and continuously improve as a team.
Provide both positive and negative criticism/feedback
“Catch” people doing things right as well as when something goes wrong. Reward and remember to tell people when they are doing things right. You want that to continue. People will be more receptive to your negative comments if they have also been accustomed to your positive comments. It shows that you are truly trying to work towards improvement.
Understand the context
Before proving feedback be sure you review the actions and decisions that led up to the event that you will be providing feedback on. Understand the circumstances completely.
Know when to give feedback
Determine when the moment is right. Are you ready to give the criticism? Is the person ready to hear it?
Do not give feedback when:
- You don’t know a lot about the circumstances
- You don’t care about the person or will not be around long enough to follow up on the aftermath of your feedback
- The feedback, either positive or negative, is about something the person does not have the power to change
- Your purpose is not really improvement
- The time , place, or circumstances are inappropriate, i.e. you are angry or others are around
Know how to give feedback
Use a tool like: When you [do this], I feel [this way], because [of such]. What I would like you to consider is [doing X], because I think it will accomplish [Y]. What do you think?
EX: When you are late for meetings, I get angry because I think it is wasting the time of other team members. I would like you to consider finding a way to better planning your schedule so you can get to meetings on time. This way our meetings can be more productive and we are not wasting the time of others. What do you think?
- Be descriptive – give specific examples
- Don’t use labels – avoid labels like unprofessional, irresponsible, and immature. Describe the specific behavior and drop the label.
- Don’t exaggerate – To say “You are always late for deadlines” may not entirely accurate.
- Don’t be judgmental – Don’t use words like “good”, “better”, “bad” or “should”. You don’t want to appear to be in the role of a parent.
- Speak for yourself – Don’t refer to absent or other people. Don’t use comments like “a lot of people here don’t like it when you….”
- Talk first about yourself, not the other person – People become defensive with that usage. Use phrases like “I feel annoyed when you are late for meetings” rather than “You are frequently late for meetings”.
- Phrase the issue as a statement not a question – Use statements like “I feel annoyed when you are late to meetings” rather than “when are you going to stop being late for meetings”. Most people become defensive and angry with a question. The use of an “I” statement implies “I think we have an issue we must resolve together.”
- Restrict your feedback to things you know for certain – Speak of what you have seen and heard not what you feel and want. Don’t present opinions as facts.
- Help people hear and accept your compliments when giving positive feedback – Some people tend to feel awkward about positive feedback. Reinforce positive feedback even when the person says “it was no big deal”.
Know how to receive feedback
There may be times when you will receive feedback from someone who does not know the guidelines. Help your critic provide the feedback by asking “What did I say or do to dissatisfy you?” then take it from there.
When reacting to feedback:
- Breathe – Taking full deep breaths forces you to relax and allows the brain to stay alert.
- Listen carefully – don’t interrupt. Don’t discourage the criticism.
- Ask questions for clarity – ask for specific examples if you don’t get them.
- Acknowledge the feedback – repeat back what you heard in your own words so the person knows you understood.
- Acknowledge valid points – agree with what is true and what is possible. That does not necessarily mean you agree to change the behavior.
- Sort out what you have heard – you may need to take some time to sort out what you have heard before responding. Check with others if needed. However, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid the feedback.
- Don’t be defensive – take the feedback for just what it is feedback. Do not try to defend or justify yourself on each point. Again, just listen.
Al Senzamici, PMP