Managing Negative Feedback
Negative feedback will and is happening with or without your involvement. People talk. And most likely they have already shared their opinion with someone else before they bring it to you. Everyone has an opinion, everyone wants to offer up suggestions, by the time the comment has been shared with you, this potential problem has already been publicized with others. Whether the complaint is valid or not, as Project Manager, you still need to address it, even if to only manage the perception.
Let me just say that all feedback is GOOD!
Change and improvements are not brought about because everything is going smoothly. I know that the group’s Negative Nelly can wear on us and they can be tedious. As a Project Manager some days it may feel like you are getting a constant barrage of what is not working. Feedback, correct or not – is informative. It tells you what other people expect, want, or how they see things differently. You must use this information to manage expectations, prepare for objections and to adjust your plan if needed.
Determining the appropriate action is dependent on the integrity of the feedback. Let’s look at what you might be hearing.
Don’t be defensive. Don’t belittle the complaint. Hear them out. Ask questions. Take time to understand their point of view. This can be the hardest part, but it is the most critical. Keep in mind that the first few words of the complaint are often not the core of the issue. They are the symptoms. You can’t determine what to do next without truly understanding the issue.
“There is no way your project will be done by end of July.”
Don’t just dismiss this first statement. Ride it out. Listen a bit longer.
“Jeff’s project has been delayed and their project has a higher priority”
mmm… There might be more to this.
“Their delay puts their project in development in the same month as yours, which means all the key developers will be utilized on his project for several weeks.”
Okay, now that’s some concrete information you can address.
Validate the information. Is it true? Never take second or third hand information as truth. Always get to the source.
In some cases, you may need to validate with multiple sources.
If the information is true. If there is something to be concerned about, you can address it. Extend your schedule, make resource adjustments. Communicate the risk and its potential to your sponsor. If you take the time to validate the information you can avert disaster.
What if the information is incorrect? What if they are just spouting off and sharing bad information? That’s still an issue to address – don’t just dismiss it. Perception is reality, and your job is to correct the perception.
Regardless of the validity of the complaint, remember these 4 points.
- Don’t react emotionally. Remain in control. Take a deep breath. Be professional. Take a moment and formulate a professional response. Give yourself time by saying; “I’ll get back to you.” “I will need to consult with members of the project team.” Give yourself room to provide a calm and reasonable response.
- Ask questions. If someone has something negative to say, you should want to hear it– whether you think it’s true or not. You can’t manage what you can’t see.
- Don’t bluff – or lie. If you were wrong – own it. Don’t lie or deflect blame. Admit when you’ve made a mistake. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Or “I apologize.” You will be more respected for it.
- Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Keep your commitments achievable and reasonable. Don’t let the negativity push you to promise to much, remember point #1, and give yourself time to formulate an appropriate response.