Give Negative Feedback and Stay Alive: How Can Sympathetic Executives Overcome Stress?

Give Negative Feedback and Stay Alive: How Can Sympathetic Executives Overcome Stress?


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Harvard’s Management Magazine has been published for over a century, and combines research and data – based articles. Its authors include leading international management and business professionals in a variety of fields, including leadership, discussions, strategy, marketing, finance and operations. Harvard translates and publishes business review articles in the Globe three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday (G Magazine).



About the writers




Rabbi S. Gajender He is an Associate Professor in the College of Business at the University of Florida International. Sibal Osan She is a doctoral student in management. Emily S. Corwin She is a doctoral student in management at Sam M College. Walton for Business at the University of Arkansas, Lauren S. Simon She is an associate professor at the same universityChristopher S. Count He is a professor


Negative feedback is a crucial factor in effective leadership and management, but while the benefits of accepting positive criticism are clear, it is not clear how providing such feedback will affect managers. While some executives enjoy giving negative feedback, 44% of executives in a survey found it to be stressful or difficult.

This is not just a minor annoyance. To clarify the hidden implications of giving negative feedback, we conducted a number of studies involving over 500 senior executives from a wide range of industries. In some executives, we found that effectiveness was significantly reduced as soon as negative feedback was given.

Our research suggests that empathy is the key to this. While the ability to recognize is a critical leadership skill, managers with high empathy actually become less efficient after giving negative feedback, while managers with low empathy become more efficient. Previous studies have shown that empathetic managers are better at providing positive negative feedback. Their ability to predict how the recipient will think and feel, and their ability to express genuine caring and empathy, raises the possibility that these managers will actively communicate feedback. However, our studies have shown that managers who know how to provide helpful feedback to their recipients are less likely to be effective on their own after providing it.

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Stressful manager, energetic manager

To better understand the factors contributing to this phenomenon, we asked managers to report their distress and attention after giving negative feedback. If they score high on a standard questionnaire designed to measure empathy, we find that they may be distressed and have difficulty paying attention after feedback, which prompts them to report that their work efficiency has decreased and that they are not motivated. Teams.

In a follow-up study, we found that in tasks designed to measure critical leadership skills such as time management and focus ability, feedback recipients are more problematic and performance of highly empathetic managers is declining. What this means is: Because empathy “absorbs” other people’s emotions, strong negative emotional feedback from recipients may move to managers with high empathy, which can affect their emotional state and thus their performance.

Our research suggests that for highly empathetic managers, giving negative feedback can be a stressful and energy consuming experience that can affect their effectiveness in performing leadership tasks that require energy and focus. Conversely, unsympathetic managers are less likely to step into their employees’ shoes or learn the emotional lesson of how people feel when receiving harsh feedback. This means that the negative emotions that employees experience when they receive negative feedback do not affect them equally. As a result, these executives reported higher energy levels and, in some cases, performed better after giving negative feedback – indicating that for sympathetic executives, giving negative feedback is actually a stimulus, rather than a holistic experience.

In light of these findings, how can organizations encourage managers to provide helpful feedback while reducing potential costs?

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The first step is to recognize that high-empathy managers and low-empathy managers face different challenges and, therefore, apparently need different support. We may want senior management positions to be filled only by very sympathetic people, but in most organizations there is a combination of empathy and low empathy. Furthermore, there is evidence that lower levels of empathy are more prevalent among senior executives than the general public, so this is a relevant consideration to keep in mind when developing policies aimed at supporting broader managers.

Find time to recover

One approach suggests that managers should find time in advance for recovery after giving negative feedback. That is, allow Satsam to recover before the planned break or at the end of the work day, before making decisions or approaching important tasks. Alternatively, if a break is not possible, managers may focus on tasks that require less energy and attention, as performing these tasks may affect the delivery of negative feedback.

Another approach is to minimize the impact of giving negative feedback through fun or stimulating tasks such as making connections, volunteering, or working on an individual project. This will help managers to renew their energy reserves, thereby equipping them to manage the rest of their working days.

Train the less sympathetic

Our research suggests that giving negative feedback is less likely to affect the performance of less sympathetic managers. However, studies have shown that people who are more empathetic usually receive more negative feedback from the recipient than those who are less sympathetic. However, our findings that negative feedback is a stimulating experience for sympathetic executives raise concerns about the vicious circle in which organizations may fall, where the most enthusiastic, on average, not the best are those who provide negative feedback.

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To address this concern, organizations need to provide training and guidance to less sympathetic managers, which will allow them to be helpful and compassionate when giving negative feedback. There are several skills and strategies that these trainings can help managers develop:

Create an environment where the employee feels emotionally confident and promotes his or her growth.
Listen to your feelings and do not react too emotionally

Give time to prepare by showing respect to the employee, requesting his permission and / or scheduling an appointment for feedback.

Remind yourself and the employee that the purpose of the feedback is to help him grow

Instead of blaming the employee or attacking his or her personality, emphasize solutions and focus on specific behaviors that need to be improved.

Invite the employee to participate in the troubleshooting process instead of turning the feedback into a one-way conversation

Monitor the effects of negative feedback and identify subsequent positive changes.

Developing these skills and adhering to best practices will enable managers to provide more effective feedback. But along with these efforts, our research suggests that organizations should also include training designed to help managers identify and properly address emotional needs for providing negative feedback. This will not only improve the well-being and performance of highly sympathetic managers, but also make managers who are successful in providing feedback more comfortable – ultimately benefiting managers, employees and the organization as a whole.

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