On Negative Feedback

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. Nurses Relations Article

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?

Specializes in ER.
I always say, if you want to hurt my feelings you have to hit me with a brick. Nothing short of that really gets through.

I don't interpret nuance and subtlety well. Sugar coating just leaves me scratching my head.

Therefore, bring on the plain speaking. Look me straight in the eye. No fidgeting, or smiling. Don't dress it up to make it look pretty, hoping I'll recognize it's not. If you smile at me while you're lowering the boom, the smile is what I'll cling to. I think most people do that.

Plain speaking leaves no room for guessing.

It makes my life easier.

LOL this reminded me of an Angler fish: the light it emits lures its prey....

Anglerfish, Anglerfish Pictures, Anglerfish Facts - National Geographic

Specializes in Psych ICU, addictions.
That's true. However the way I am I don't take to heart what people I dont respect have to say. So its better left unsaid to me because I'm not listening. Emphasis on respect. I respect GOOD workers.

Then that's your decision and your risk to take. Hopefully such a decision won't come back to bite you in the rear, but if it does I'm sure you'll deal with the fallout somehow.

Specializes in critical care.

I've only had negative feedback that I wasn't expecting once since starting my current job. The conversation started with, "I'm sorry I threw you under the bus, but I did it so you would understand what I'm about to say...." No, I didn't understand why it was necessary, and I'm not exactly sure why she wasn't helping me when she knew I needed help. So where was the larger failing? Mine, for struggling with stuff I'd never done before? Or hers, for failing to give me the support I needed? Probably it was somewhere in the middle, but it didn't make me any less taken aback or frustrated, especially when she decided to deliver this feedback while we were surrounded by nurses at shift change at the nurse's station.

But, I digress......

All other feedback, I was actually expecting. It's weird, but this is the first career I've had where my own self appraisal has been very realistic. So when I'm told I need to brush up on something, I say, "thank you - I feel the same way." In the past, I've really taken negative feedback personally, so I guess I'm thankful for the thickened skin.

Awesome post...much like with anything it's the one person that ruins it for everyone. It's the one person who is notoriously passive aggressive and uses negative feedback as a tactic to feed their desire to be a ? that perpetuates PTSD with people and constructive criticism.

Specializes in Transitional Nursing.

I think constructive criticism works better. It's not the volume, it's the tone.

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching.
I think constructive criticism works better. It's not the volume, it's the tone.

Unfortunately, what you see as "constructive criticism" may be seen by the other as "harsh and demeaning." Not everyone has the gift.

Negative, positive....it is all feedback. It doesn't necessarily need to be labelled.

What causes the drama and emotion, in my opinion, is people giving out the feedback who really have no reason to/can't do anything with the information that can change it.

If someone is getting dinged on their performance evals, then one is in a position to come up with a plan to change it. To cover themselves, learn to improve, that type of thing.

However someone who is sharing feedback that is not constructive, just hangs in the air and does nothing but make a nurse question themselves, it does nothing.

Precepting is teaching. And part of teaching is learning. And one is learning they may make a mistake. That hopefully is pointed out before it causes harm to a patient. So to say "you would not give that medication. Do you know why?" Is much better than "What part of what you are doing is correct?" To have discussion like adults is usually more effective and long lasting than making statements that put most people on the defensive.

Very well written. Nicely covered from all angles. What about recognition? Is there a consistent process? or consistent tools? or do you have to depend on some obscure tool provided by the employer?

I like feedback. I can't improve if no one will tell me. What's horrible are the ones who will gossip or run to the boss but NEVER tell the person. Then there are the ones who are told all the time but THEY know more. They are dangerous.