Plato Elevate Winter Summit has been announced (Dec 7th-8th)

🔥

Back to resources

Delivering Negative Feedback Effectively

Feedback

2 August, 2020

Shelly Bezanson
Shelly Bezanson

Director of Release at Thoughtexchange

Shelly Bezanson, Director of Release at Thoughtexchange, explains how she would approach an uncomfortable situation and effectively deliver negative feedback.

Problem

As a leader, I would unfortunately receive reports on people underperforming or having interpersonal conflicts. While I have a responsibility to address those problems, I still find delivering negative feedback uneasy and uncomfortable. What I believe prevents most people from delivering honest feedback is the fear of being disliked and being afraid to hurt other people’s feelings. Some prefer to ignore it, hoping it will go away or that it was a one-time thing. However, I have found this to not be the case. Often, the longer you let it go, the bigger it gets.

Yet, as a leader, you are responsible to help people become successful and identify opportunities for their improvement. It is not a personal thing, popularity contest or anything else other than providing constructive criticism and helping them improve their performance or behavior. Moreover, if a person underperforms or negatively impacts your team, you have a responsibility to protect the team as a whole.

Actions taken

I would approach any of those situations with curiosity and compassion and with a strong conviction that my responsibility as a leader is to help a person improve. I would minimize my emotions and focus on the business side of the problem. By doing so it focuses on the behavior, not the person and the actions you can take to address the issue. Removing anything personal would allow me to assess the problem more objectively and avoid any ad hominem qualifications.

Whenever I would encounter an uncomfortable situation and I would have to deliver negative feedback, I would allow curiosity to be my guide and I would look for evidence corroborated by concrete examples before taking any actions. If I had personally witnessed a situation that would require my involvement then I would apply my own formula on how to engage in a conversation. I would clearly state what I have observed and what the impact of that behavior is. Then I would give the person a chance to absorb and respond. This is when things can get emotional and you can find the conversation gets defensive. I would try to steer it away from that and stick the facts. You then want to move to working together on what are the next steps we should take. I would follow up with an email clarifying once again key points and ensuring that we are on the same page. Then, I would come up with a plan that we would check-in and work closely together to ensure their gradual improvement.

Most often things would get better, but if they don’t, another -- often more uncomfortable -- conversation would follow. I would prepare in advance key talking points and would keep reminding myself that I am doing this to help the other person. Again, I would let my curiosity guide me as I would learn more about what was happening with this person. Oftentimes, managers are unaware of serious personal problems that would spill over to the workplace and impact a person's performance and behavior. After digging deeper and learning that there were no reasonable explanations for the continual deterioration of their performance and behavior I would emphasize how things have gotten more serious, that I have identified a pattern and recurring nature of the problem that calls for more drastic measures. It’s important that your teammate understands the seriousness of the situation and the consequences of inaction.

If the problem continues, you may have to consider letting go of that person. It’s important to loop in HR as soon as you think this may be a possible outcome.

What makes my approach unique is a good balance of being compassionate and direct. I come from a place of curiosity and care and have no other intentions but to help the other person be the best version of themselves. Nevertheless, I have to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty and not to fear being disliked. After all, I am responsible for the team as a whole and everything should be subservient to the success of the business.

Lessons learned

  • Years ago I had to let someone go and it was quite a surprise for them. I believe some of this surprise was a result of me failing to deliver direct and honest feedback when it was needed. I failed them as a manager and I regret to this day that they had to be surprised. This is the emotional baggage I carry with me, but that allowed me to improve and mature as a manager.
  • The importance of straightforward and candid feedback can not be overstated. This is an alpha and omega of any trustful and productive relationship between a manager and their employee. It should be always coupled with a follow-up even if it makes you a nagging person. Your responsibility as a leader is to navigate uncomfortable situations, set clear expectations, and ensure accountability, and delivering negative feedback is an inseparable part of that process.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Improving Team Execution in a Remote Environment

29 November

Vadim Antonov, Engineering Manager at Meta, details his process of implementing an organized execution system for his cross-functional team.

Alignment
Remote
Leadership
Delegate
Feedback
Vadim Antonov

Vadim Antonov

Engineering Manager at Facebook

Demystifying the Cult of the Founding Engineer: Talking to Customers and Discovering “Hidden” Talent

23 November

Albert Lie, former Founding Engineer and Tech Lead at Xendit, didn’t know what it takes to become an early engineering hire and not a lot of people around him experienced this unknown and arcane path. He had to learn it the hard way from the pitfalls he encountered along the way and he has been creating numerous frameworks to measure his growth and keep burgeoning in this role since then. He codifies and expresses the systems he put in place surrounding the balance of customer inquiry to product building and growing the engineering team.

Alignment
Meetings
Feedback
Hiring
Prioritization
Albert Lie

Albert Lie

Former Tech Lead at Xendit

One-On-Ones for Engaging Employees: How Good Managers Run Them

11 November

Matt Anger, Senior Staff Engineer at DoorDash, shares some of the benefits of having one-on-one meetings and tips on how both parties should run them.

Goal Setting
Leadership
Meetings
Feedback
Matt Anger

Matt Anger

Senior Staff Engineer at DoorDash

How to Stay Up-to-Date Managing a Large Remote Team

12 November

Deepesh Makkar, Sr Director of Engineering at SunPower Corporation, details the processes he formalized to stay in touch with large, remote teams that are located internationally.

Remote
Meetings
Feedback
Onboarding
Changing Company
Deepesh Makkar

Deepesh Makkar

Sr Director of Engineering at SunPower Corporation

How to Build a Successful Onboarding Process

9 November

Frédéric Duperier explains how he created a successful onboarding process and documentation, incorporating feedback from within the organization.

Alignment
Internal Communication
Feedback
Onboarding
Frédéric Duperier

Frédéric Duperier

Founder at We Are One Sarl

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.