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Evan Davis on... constructive negative feedback

Updated Friday, 3rd July 2009

After The Bottom Line looked at management, Evan Davis suggested there's a real value in constructive negative feedback.

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Does my bum look big in this?

You’ve all heard the question, right? And the answer is always no.

Now it actually highlights what is a very important problem we all have in life; it’s that we struggle to get constructive negative feedback. It’s hard to get people to tell us the truth if the truth is going to be painful even though, of course, the truth may often be very useful.

Now this is a particular problem in the workplace. There may be things, little things perhaps, not terribly important things but little things that we persist in doing wrong or that annoy our colleagues but, out of politeness or reticence or in order to keep a harmonious office, most people will just not say anything.

So the job in life is to find a way of getting people to say something that is negative without it being so overwhelmingly negative or abusive that we feel it destroys or undermines us.

It’s a problem for all of us, it’s a particular problem for chief executives, because not only do they, of course, have the same problems as the rest of us, it’s that everyone’s far too terrified to tell them the truth about their own company.

They have a little bit of the problem that the Queen must have when she goes around visiting places that everything is decked out in bunting, painted up nicely, cleaned up so she doesn’t really see what it’s like on a normal day.

One of the challenges for chief executives is to find a way to keep in touch with the shop floor and to make sure that they get that constructive negative feedback.

There are ways you can do it, of which the most important is to disguise yourself or to disguise the people who are giving you the feedback so that people feel they can be honest without hurting feelings, but somehow that's what big important cheeses in companies need to do.

That’s my opinion; you can get the debate with the Open University.





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