How Terrible Managers Respond to Negative Employee Feedback

2 min read
Apr 29, 2015

broken bulbAsking your employees for feedback is, by all accounts, a good idea. When employees have the chance to open up about their concerns and issues, managers get insight into what’s working and what can be improved.

Consider what a CareerBuilder survey found:

  • 48% employees would stay with a company that asks them what they want and acts on that feedback.

But for every constructive suggestion you might receive, there will be a number of not-so-positive responses — and not all of them will be couched in kindness. How you react and deal with these is just as important as acting on the suggestion to install a new coffee machine in the break room.

When negative feedback comes as a surprise, organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz recommends the lemonade-out-of-lemons approach. Effective leaders are those people who use the feedback “to learn what they are doing that’s negatively affecting others on their team.”

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Here are four mistakes, however, you should avoid:

1. Don't ignore it: You asked for feedback because you want to gain insight into the workplace, and you should expect the bad with the good. Just because you hear something you don’t like doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. In fact, ignoring negative comments has larger ramifications. When employers fail to act on feedback, it has a negative effect on overall employee engagement. Here’s what a BlessingWhite employee engagement survey discovered:

  • When employers take no action after a survey, employee engagement drops to 24%

  • When employees take action after a survey, employee engagement rises to 47%

2. Don’t get defensive: We’re all human, so our first response to criticism is instinctually defensive, especially if the feedback we’re hearing is directed at our management abilities. Fight that urge. If the feedback isn’t anonymous, you have an opportunity follow up with the employee in a one-on-one setting where you can ask for more specifics. Act curious and be humble. No one’s perfect, so accepting responsibility shows your ability to listen to your employees and improve yourself.

3. Don’t respond with criticism: This is the workplace equivalent of the playground taunt “no, you are!” Don’t give in to the desire to respond to negative comments with more negativity. Sure, there will be things your employees do that also need improving, but this isn’t the time or place to bring them up for discussion. Save that for a performance review.

4. Don’t target your critics: As a manager, it’s easy to feel like the most vocal members of your team are bad apples who are spoiling the bunch. This is especially true on a smaller team, where a few voices may seem louder than the rest. Resist the temptation to silence these critics — and instead, invite them to the table for an open discussion.

Ultimately, remember this: asking for employee feedback and acting on it is ultimately a positive thing, even if the initial feedback is negative.




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