Most of us find giving criticism to other people rather difficult, rather awkward, perhaps rather embarrassing. Of course, a few people are far too critical and don’t mind at all, but let’s put them aside for the moment, because most of us do find it a little bit embarrassing. But in an organisation, it’s terribly important that people are given negative feedback. It’s part of learning, isn’t it, and getting better, its part of improvement.
For someone in my job, as a presenter at the BBC, it’s particularly hard to get negative feedback. People are terrified to say anything negative to presenters because they feel that our job relies so much on exuding a sense of confidence that if anyone says anything negative to us, we’ll wither up into tears and never appear in front of a camera again.
So how can organisations, how can managers in organisations, get over the problem that giving feedback is difficult, but giving negative feedback is also important? Well, here’s one suggestion. It is to spread through an organisation the need that everybody, those who are going to get feedback and those who aren’t, that everybody gives permission to everybody else to be negative about them.
So it’s a matter in my organisation, for example, imbuing in me a sense that I have to go out and seek negative feedback, and that means me and people I deal with, my colleagues, my superiors and the people who perhaps are more junior, it’s about me giving them permission to say something negative. It’s about me fostering an atmosphere in which I make clear to them that they’re not going to hurt my feelings unduly if they make some perhaps rather negative remark that is helpful, or that I’m not going to be, in any way have my confidence destroyed by that.
The management in an organisation can spread around the idea that everybody must give permission to everybody else to say good things and bad things, not bullying things but good things and constructively bad things; that organisation is going to be the organisation that learns, and learns effectively.
Well, that’s my opinion. You can join the debate with the Open University.