On Negative Feedback

  1. Negative feedback is something that we all encounter in our lives, both giving and receiving. Neither is easy and most kind people would rather give positive than negative feedback. There is value in learning to receive negative feedback in a postive way, no matter how clumsily it is delivered.

    On Negative Feedback

    There's being blunt, honest and plain spoken. There's saying what you mean and meaning what you say. There's giving it to you straight, not pulling punches and there's even being rude or brusque. But none of those things are mean, nasty or hateful. They're a communication style that not everyone is comfortable with receiving, but they're a legitimate communication style, and people who communicate in that manner probably are not out to get you. They're just being straightforward, not beating around the bush and not sugar coating anything. Not every interaction you find unpleasant is mean, nasty, hateful or (and I hate to even bring up the word) bullying.

    Most of us would rather receive negative feedback, if we have to receive it at all, from someone who is very skilled at making us feel good while delivering the criticism. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many of us who are so skillful and capable at the art of delivering negative feedback. Some wrap it up in rainbows or sugar coat it until it's unrecognizable as criticism. Others are more direct.

    There are definite advantages to working with someone who says what they mean and means what they say. If they're your preceptor, you don't ever have to worry about what they're thinking. You KNOW when you've screwed up, HOW you screwed up and what you need to do not to screw up next time. They're not the preceptor who is blowing fairy dust up your skirt while writing the memo to the manager about how you're just not catching on and probably are not going to fit in or work out.

    They're the preceptor who tells you "You got the time management thing nailed, but you really should not have given the Coumadin to the man with the cherry red urine, the INR of 7 and the hemoglobin of 6. Your critical thinking needs work."

    (Or, more likely, "Your critical thinking is showing improvement and you were right not to give that Coumadin, but your meds are still two hours behind and your charting is at least four hours late.")

    Some folks would like all of their negative feedback wrapped in rainbows and sandwiched in between praise and compliments -- and some of those folks actually hear and process the negative feedback packaged that way. But all too many folks hear the praise and compliments which reinforce their opinion that they're doing just great and the negative feedback just whooshes over their heads.

    Those are the people who sign the performance improvement tool, certain that it really isn't that big of a deal because didn't they just tell you that you're obviously very smart and trying very hard?

    And then they're completely taken aback when someone calls them to a meeting to discuss their options -- quit, be fired or transfer to a "less acute area."

    Most good people, nice people, kind people hate to give negative feedback, and some try so hard to give it in a positive manner that the negative gets entirely lost. Some folks sugar coat the criticism so much it could pass as candy rather than criticism. Some folks are so nervous about giving negative feedback that it comes out far harsher than they intended, or even than they realize.

    Most of us can benefit from hearing negative feedback, whether we find the experience pleasant or not. And negative feedback that is given in a direct, straightforward fashion has more chance of being understood and processed than negative feedback that is disguised as fairy dust and rainbows.

    Negative feedback is not usually mean, nasty or hateful. It is, if you make it so, a wonderful tool for learning and improving your practice, for making your patients safer and your unit a better place to work. And isn't that what we're all really after?
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 17, '18
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    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

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    56 Comments

  3. by   scottaprn
    Anyone know the most effective ratio of positive to negative feedback?

    ps: googling is cheating
  4. by   Esme12
    It's 5 or 6 positive to 1 negative....a little extreme if you ask me...LOL
  5. by   scottaprn
    Bingo esme12.

    The research behind it is pretty fascinating if you read it. The reason people need less negative feedback compared to positive is actually negative feedback "sticks" with people longer and more profoundly. That means a person doesn't need as much negative feedback in order to get the point across.

    It crosses the line into piling on quicker than we think. It is a hard ratio to maintain with patients and coworkers but pretty darn effective.
  6. by   ms.piggy98
    I love this article, I think it could benefit me in the very near future.
    Is the answer 3:1 scottaprn
  7. by   BSNbeauty
    Good article. I don't mind negative feedback at all, in fact I welcome it. I want to know how I can improve and things I need to work on. However, it is never what you say but it is how you say it. You don't need to wrap your comments up in rainbows and skittles and sprinkle it with sugar. Just talk to me respectfully.
    As a person who have been a preceptor and have been in orientation, I've realized that tone, body language and attitude means everything. Recently I had to correct a new grad, I did it respectfully without sugar coating anything. It really didn't take much to do at all.
  8. by   cracklingkraken
    I personally always cringe at hearing negative feedback. I take it very personally - blame it on the desire to be a perfectionist in all things. I know that it results in correcting or improving my personal skills and attitudes. Doesn't mean I like it.
  9. by   macawake
    Quote from prnqday
    As a person who have been a preceptor and have been in orientation, I've realized that tone, body language and attitude means everything. Recently I had to correct a new grad, I did it respectfully without sugar coating anything. It really didn't take much to do at all.
    I agree with this and I think that it’s the reason behind many of the misunderstandings and unnecessary drama seen in internet debate. Facial expressions and body language can’t be seen and tone of voice is up to the reader’s interpretation.

    A post can have a completely different meaning if we imagine the tone to be friendly or simply matter of fact, compared to condescending or sarcastic.

    I believe that some individuals are more prone to taking offense than others. Very often when I see drama develop I wish that the poster who felt insulted could just have asked the author of the offensive post to clarify the meaning of their post, instead of launching a hurt “counterattack”. The other posters intention isn’t always what the slighted party imagined.

    Negative feedback can be useful and productive. Delivering it in a way so that the other person will rationally contemplate and evaluate it is however, a bit of an art. It’s not always easy.



    Good post RubyVee!
  10. by   SeattleJess
    Well, John Gottman says it's 5 positive to 1 negative. Excuse me, I'm off to Google now...
  11. by   SeattleJess
    Wow, I have many positives about this article: well-written, mature, helpful, sane and insightful essay! I've found it is ALWAYS better to disregard the emotional triggers in a message and to focus on the objective content. Doesn't mean it's easy.. 'cause like other posters, my first response is often to personalize and get defensive. Fortunately, we can learn and this posting is a boost in that direction. Thanks, Ruby Vee.

    Can't think of a negative....

    Does this mean I'm unbalanced?

  12. by   SallyA781
    [QUOTE=macawake;8092985

    Negative feedback can be useful and productive. Delivering it in a way so that the other person will rationally contemplate and evaluate it is however, a bit of an art. It’s not always easy.



    Good post RubyVee![/QUOTE]
    -It is an art indeed! I think it would be really helpful if preceptors and unit managers could learn techniques in delivering positive and negative feedback, critiques, mentoring, coaching, etc. It would also be great if only those nurses who were truly interested in mentoring were assigned and properly trained as preceptors, instead of constantly being volun-told at the last minute that you are precepting someone today.
  13. by   Burrell
    for me its all about WHO is giving me the feedback. If your someone I dont respect or even like, you already know I'm either ignoring you(pretending I'm on the beach with drinks) or I'm gonna tell you to get out my face. My manager gives me hints on how I can do better; he doesn't give it to me in a sugary way but I wholeheartedly listen because I value him deeply. In fact I respect him so much that I DO try and do better. Now if your the dude that is useless or don't perform, I'm most definitely not going to be value your thoughts and I will let you know by ignoring you or tell you to shove it.
  14. by   my_purpose
    That's all us new grads ask. 😊

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