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Are You Giving Too Much Negative Feedback?

The purpose of giving effective feedback is to improve the situation or a person's performance. When your feedback is harsh, critical, or offensive, people have a hard time learning from it because they may become defensive or insulted. Positive feedback provides positive observations and suggestions that allow others to see what can change to improve their focus and results. You'll likely get much more from people when your approach is positive and focused on improvement. So, if positive feedback is so powerful, how come most people don't know how to give it?

Sales Leaders Haven’t Learned how to Provide Effective Feedback

Many sales leaders aren't good at giving positive effective feedback. This is because they are far too vague, their negative feedback outweighs their positive reinforcement or they tend to drone on too long.

In fact, a survey of 1,000 full-time employees by TriNet, states that 59% feel their manager is unprepared to give feedback during performance reviews. Over half of the people being evaluated don't think their manager gives good feedback. 

Focused Approach

Start with a focused approach. If a sales leader were to say, "Good job" that feels good overall, but the salesperson doesn't know what they are being praised for. Instead, if the sales leader were to say, "Good job on that discovery call, I liked that question about so and so."

That cuts through all the guessing, and now the salesperson knows what they did well. They will be more likely to repeat that action. Always keep in mind that whenever you engage with a salesperson, that's a chance to be able to give positive feedback.

The Perfect Feedback Ratio

We find many sales leader's feedback ratios are actually a 1:10 ratio of positive to negative feedback. However, if you really want to influence behavior or action, Happy Brain Science says you need to have a 5:1 positive to constructive feedback ratio.

If you are always giving negative feedback such as "that's not how you do that" or "you should,” then that salesperson will start to feel beat down. But, if you say, "you did a nice job on this, that, and those other things." Then that starts to lift the salesperson up, and they are more likely to repeat those positive actions.

Then when you have to provide constructive feedback to correct something, they are more likely to be open to listening to that feedback. Do you know what your positive to negative ratio is?

Treat Feedback like a Sale

Make sure when you are giving feedback to your team, your boss, your family members, etc. that you treat it like a sale. Don't give the feedback in statement form but rather treat it as a dialogue. 

For instance, if your product is headphones, you wouldn't sell it like, "These are awesome headphones you should buy them because of this, this and this reason." The word people get hung up on is "should." Let's avoid that by creating a dialogue.

Start by asking questions like "How often do you use headphones? What's important about those headphones?" Chances are they'll say something like, "Sound quality, noise-canceling, the microphone, etc." Now you've uncovered certain characteristics that they hold in high value.

Sell the Feedback

Apply that to your feedback. Sell them on the feedback. If you ask questions the dialogue will flow something like this:

  • Sales leader: "How do you think that call went when you talked about this?"
  • Salesperson: "I think it went well. I was able to connect with them through this."
  • Sales leader: "I liked that too, particularly that last question. How else can you do it?" 

At this point, you are making the salesperson think it through and come to your conclusion. It's positive, specific, they get to learn, you're connecting with your salesperson, and it's actionable.

Pivotal Advisors has a saying, "give feedback often and quickly." Don’t wait a week or longer.  The opportunity has passed, and your feedback will be much less effective. According to PwC, nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis. That number increased to 72% for employees under age 30. 

How to Give Upward Effective Feedback

Could you be putting your job or your relationship at risk by telling your boss what you see or by giving them blunt feedback? Sharing upward feedback doesn't come naturally; it feels awkward, intimidating, and almost like you're doing something you shouldn't so, most sales leaders will avoid it. 

In 2018, Pivotal Advisors held a panel of four owners/CEO's at one of our Peak Alliance group events, and we asked them, "If you are asking your sales leader to do too much or distracting them from their focus, do you want them to push back?" All of the owners said, "Yes, and I want them to do that more often."

Not only that but, a study done by Forbes of 51,896 managers showed there was a strong correlation between the tendency to seek feedback and leadership effectiveness, leaders in the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated on average in the top 14% for leadership effectiveness. That’s great.

How to Give Upward Feedback

So not only should you give feedback to your CEO, they often welcome it. But you must go about it the right way. As important as preparing what you'll say is spending time thinking about how you'll say it. The way you begin this interaction will set the tone for the entire discussion and can mean the difference between a productive conversation, which is what you want, and a, well, traumatic one.

Start by setting a 1-on-1 meeting with them and ask for their thoughts on, for example, the laundry list of things they have given you to do, yet again. Explain that you'd be happy to add these other tasks to your list, but you need some clarity.

Ask questions like, "Which of these is the most important? Which of these would you like me to get done? Which items should fall off the list so I can get these done? Or can we put it off for another time?" You are helping them understand they have given you more than you get done this week or the next. You are giving them data and options which work well with discussion makers. 

Next, if they are too vague, get clarity, "Okay, you said to get this one by the end of the week Friday correct? And this done by tomorrow, correct?" It's a dialogue the same as you have with your sales team. Remember, to be honest, show data, ask questions, and clarify. The more you do that, the better your CEO will get at giving and receiving feedback, and this will start to feel more natural. 

In the End

Giving positive feedback should be clear, actionable, and given often. Treating feedback as if it were a discussion between you and your salesperson helps you build trust, connection, and is more effective. Lastly, giving upward feedback doesn't have to be like pulling teeth; be clear, give options and data, and ask questions.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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