In a tight-knit office setting where employees interact with one another on a constant basis, workers may be hesitant to give honest feedback to avoid potential confrontation. However, this can often lead to a failure to address key issues, which can hinder an organization's ability to fix its problems.
Fear of coming off as overly negative can prevent workers from speaking their minds. It is the management team's role to foster an environment that allows employees to be open and constructive with their feedback with peers and supervisors alike.
How to turn a negative into a positive
Business Insider contributor Mike Gellman wrote about several strategies to assist workers who aim to give constructive criticism to their managers. While his advice was geared toward nervous employees who want to avoid angering their bosses, some of the key points can be applied to both peer-to-peer feedback and to supervisors hoping to improve their team members' productivity.
Gellman asserted that, when dealing with such a delicate situation, it is important to begin by establishing respect. Employees should recognize their managers' authority and demonstrate that they are not trying to supersede it, he said. Likewise, supervisors should seek to show their workers how valuable they are within the context of the organization.
By maintaining a calm demeanor and offering neutral observations about the situation at hand and the steps that the person involved should take, Gellman argued that hostile reactions can largely be avoided. Accusations have no place in a constructive feedback setting, and can serve to alienate the recipient right off the bat.
After the discussion has played out, Gellman suggested that professionalism is important – express gratitude for the person's time, follow-up with further positive feedback and recommendations, and even offer to meet again to build upon what was accomplished.
It's all about culture – breed positivity and openness
Jim Whitehurst reported in an article for the Harvard Business Review that when he worked as a business consultant, he often found that employees were far more likely to open up about issues in the office that were bothersome to them when speaking with a third party, with whom they were to address the problems with colleagues or management. He lamented that, instead of simply bringing the situation to light with peers, workers were likely to avoid direct confrontation and vent to an outside viewer.
Whitehurst said that this is representative of a workplace environment that is neither receptive to constructive criticism nor welcoming enough to achieve an open dialogue. Management must work to address this culture, he stressed.
One of the best ways to create a positive vibe in an office is to be appreciative of employees, he said. Managers should actively provide good critiques to workers – he noted that the ratio of positive to negative feedback in his organization is about 9-to-1. Even relatively simple comments can boost morale and contribute to establishing an environment that feels open to employees.
Whitehurst noted that an important part of this process is managers leading by example. Opening up to workers and appearing to be somewhat vulnerable can actually make them feel more comfortable, the author said. In addition, being inclusive toward all employees is crucial, as this can build trust and establish open, constructive dialogue between workers and their supervisors.
It can be challenging to inform coworkers, managers or even employees that they are doing certain things incorrectly and should change their approaches. Management should aim to create an office culture that supports open conversations without defensive backlash. To learn about strategies for building a positive workplace environment, enroll in a training course or seminar.