Negative people – a source of rich and useful feedback?

negative people - a rich source of feedback?
Sally had some negative opinions, but she also had a point…

Feedback is critical whenever something needs improvement. Lack of feedback sends people down the wrong path as they don’t receive any indication that what they’re trying to do is working, or whether what they’re trying is a pointless endeavour.

If you are about to release a product, you want customer feedback beforehand, so you test it.

If you want to paint the meeting room pink, you want to see whether your team will like it, so you ask them first.

If you want to improve the way you work, you use feedback from your colleagues to find the areas where you might be lacking.

When there is no feedback, everything is fine, right?

In one of my previous roles, I came across a situation where in one of our offices, there were a number of system performance issues which were being raised by our General Manager. Slow network speeds, not being able to connect to different parts of the office network, wireless problems, your run of the mill IT problems.

Our GM was new at the time, so he continued to raise these issues with Corporate IT. They told him that it must be an issue with his laptop because nobody else was complaining, “So it must be OK”.

The funny thing was that everyone else was having the same issues, it’s just that they had become desensitised to them, getting used to the poor performance over a prolonged period.

Keep in mind that people who simply don’t care that much will often remain silent. Never use silence as an indicator that everything is going well with your team!

Be careful not to take only the positive

It is tempting as a leader to just listen to the positive feedback from your team and to discard the rest. After all, if you only hear the positive messages, you don’t need to do anything – just keep doing what you’re doing.

Overly negative

Negative feedback is hard to hear, because it means some of what you have been doing hasn’t worked. It nags at you, you can’t just leave it be – because it isn’t working!

I’ve noticed in some workplaces that leaders tend to discount negative feedback from a small number of people because they just assume that these people are overly negative.

Negative people can have some very useful things to tell you and the reason they differ from the hordes of neutral or positive people is that they care enough (or are angry enough at the state of things) to raise their concerns.

Listen to the overly negative people – they might have a point

Sometimes overly negative people are just that – overly negative. They like to say things are bad, but they generally don’t come to the table with any solutions.

But be careful about listening to your gang of positive people – they won’t really help you when it comes time to improve. Positive people will often discount negative aspects – and some of these people are simply trying to ingratiate themselves with leaders by looking and sounding like a “team player”.

If you encounter a person with strong negative opinions about the way things are working, sit down with them one on one and listen. I use these simple criteria to see whether they are simply “too negative” or “negative for good reason”:

  1. Do they have any potential solutions? If yes, then listen to them – they might just help.
  2. Do they have trouble accepting other people’s new ideas as being a potential improvement? If so, they may just be scared of change and may not be so helpful.
  3. Do they identify anything positive that is working? Or is it all doom and gloom? If it’s all gloom, then this person may be “too far gone” to be a helpful source of feedback and a change of environment may be in order.

Ok, that’s not to say that positive people have nothing to contribute – you need positive people in your workplace in order to keep morale up and for people not to sink into despair.

Positive people can also be useful sources of feedback, as long as they are not deluded. Overly positive people will simply gloss over negative aspects and focus only on the high points. While this can be nice, it isn’t all that useful for a workplace to improve, so listen to your negative people too.

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