Putting a Positive Spin on Negative Feedback
No one likes to be called into the boss’s office and told they need to improve on x, y, or z. In most cases, human nature kicks in at the first sign of trouble and our knee-jerk reaction is to mount an aggressive defense against the charges.
That’s not the way to handle the situation, say long-time RT managers Joy Hargett, MBA, RRT, Lynn Reinert, RRT, and Will Caliwag, BS, RRT, CPFT. While admitting it’s hard to put a positive spin on negative feedback, these AARC members believe people learn from the experience, but also come out of it with much more respect from their boss than they had going in.
Keep it professional
“Employees always need to act professionally when interacting with their boss, even when they are receiving criticism,” says Hargett, who currently serves as manager of respiratory care at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, TX. “It’s tough to do sometimes, but standards of behavior are expected by employers.”
She finds younger employees, or those new to respiratory care, often have the hardest time adjusting to negative remarks, mainly because they don’t know the consequences. The key is to understand that the manager, while addressing a concern, in the vast majority of cases isn’t getting ready to hand you a pink slip.
“Employees need to understand the boss’s motivation in trying to make the employee a more productive and valuable one and to correct inappropriate behavior and performance,” says Hargett. Given the chance, most managers will bend over backwards to help the employee improve, and that benefits everyone in the long run.
Be willing to listen
When Reinert has to deliver negative feedback, she says she likes to see employees acknowledge that they understand what she is talking about. “They don’t have to agree with me, but they should be willing to listen to what I’m saying,” says the respiratory care manager at Kona Community Hospital in Kealakekua, HI. “I appreciate feedback too. If they have a different opinion, I will listen.”
Engaging in a calm and rational discussion with your boss about what the problem is and how it can be solved, she says, is the first step to overcoming it. “I feel the employee should be able to be part of this conversation without raising their voice or becoming pouty or angry,” says the manager. “I am not accusatory when having discussions, and remain calm. I would appreciate the same from the employee.”
“Own” the behavior
Caliwag expects his employees to buck up when they hear the bad news too. “Accept the feedback calmly, do not argue, do not make excuses, and do not attempt to redirect the conversation,” says the director of respiratory care services, pulmonary rehab, and asthma education and management at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, CA. “No deflecting – ‘own’ the misbehavior.”
If the employee genuinely believes he or she is being unjustly accused, he suggests the person ask for specific instances when the questionable behavior occurred. In most cases, that will help clarify the problem.
Know when to move on
Of course, employees should not expect their boss to change his mind about the situation. Most managers won’t initiate a “negative feedback” meeting unless they truly believe they are right about the problem.
So that means employees need to skip over anger and denial and go right to acceptance and remediation. “Write down the feedback so there is no confusion, write down SMART goals specific to the feedback, and calendar follow-up meetings to inquire about your progress and get feedback,” recommends Caliwag.
“Once feedback has been delivered, it is up to the therapist to implement the changes ASAP,” agrees Reinert. “If I can see the person is trying to change the behavior/problem, I’m pretty forgiving. We want a good, safe, happy crew.”