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How to Handle Negative Feedback Loops in Meetings

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 11:00
Negative Feedback Loops in Meetings

Not long ago this blog shared techniques for dealing with “discord, discontent & disappointment” in meetings. My leading argument was, because studies show that many U.S. workers feel a lot of meeting time is wasted (see Sarah Murphy’s post “10 Ways Business Leaders Can Optimize Meeting Time”), meeting leaders should expect to manage some level of resistance and/or disengagement from attendees during any given session.

Leadership guru Ken Blanchard in one of his recent columns bears revisiting:

“In a fast-paced work environment, communication challenges come up every day. It’s natural for conflict to arise and disagreement to occur, so leaders need the skills to successfully manage emotionally charged conversations and help resolve issues between team members.”

The basic direction gleaned from Blanchard and other experts in the field of facilitating teamwork boiled down to three points:

  • Raise Commonalities
  • Source Your Research
  • Take Cues from Others

You can explore the details of that advice at your convenience. For now, let’s agree that the suggestions revolved mostly around resolving conflict between members of a working group. But what happens when the discord, discontent and disappointment comes directly at you?

Whatever the reason you were tasked with leading a meeting, negative feedback aimed at you casts a bright spotlight on your performance—right then and there. Author and management consultant Dick Grote has specific suggestions for this very situation in his recent column for Harvard Business Review— and, coincidentally, his guidance crystallizes into three bullets, too:

1. Listen carefully while receiving negative meeting feedback

Grote believes the first, best discipline of a leader in the face of negative feedback is “not interrupting and listening carefully.” What too often goes unmentioned on this point, he feels, is “what, exactly, is it that you should be listening for?” Grote recommends you consider two questions:

Is the feedback fact or opinion? “That you didn’t include some components in your project plan is a fact. That you ran a meeting poorly is an opinion,” Grote says. “Both may be accurate, but sorting out facts from opinion while you’re listening will make it easier for you to respond effectively.”

Is the feedback accurate? “I often hear, ‘It wasn’t what she said, it was the way she said it’,” he elaborates. “OK, the way she said it was harsh and callous and insensitive. But is she right? Even though negative feedback may be badly delivered, it may be accurate.”

2. Don’t get defensive about the feedback

Grote says listening defensively is in our nature, because when confronted with negative feedback “we tend to listen not to understand what’s being said, but to spot distortions or inaccuracies or faulty conclusions.”

Seeking to demonstrate that the person giving negative feedback is wrong, he explains, almost never is in our best interests at the moment the criticism is received. “The key is to listen to the other person without planning our reply,” Grote counsels. “Simply nodding until the other person has completely finished will make sure that your counterpart has said everything intended.”

3. Ask for time to consider and address the concerns

Requesting time to consider what your colleague has shared with you is always a good approach, Grote says. Making this sort of deferential reply defuses tension and signals the other party that you value their input and want to consider matters deliberately.

He suggests saying something similar to “I appreciate your feedback. I’d like to give what you’ve said some real thought and get back to you,” and then adding, “Is there anything else I should know?” You want to be thorough and ensure nothing has been left unsaid.

In his article, Grote leaves readers with these final words of wisdom about receiving negative feedback in a public forum like a meeting: “Don’t over-apologize. Apologize once if necessary, sincerely and maturely. Remember that criticism and negative feedback are a fact of life. Learn from your mistakes, and move on.”

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