The Bad News Advantage: Why Giving Difficult Feedback is Important

Why giving honest, difficult feedback makes you a more effective leader.

read

16-bad-news-1.jpg

Sharing bad news is a good thing.

As a leader, you might not think it, at first. But it’s true. Leaders who are honest about the bad — just as much as the good — are better leaders.

But it’s not just me saying this. Research proves this.

In a 2013 study discussed in Forbes, researchers found that leaders who gave honest feedback were rated as five times more effective than ones who do not. In addition, leaders who gave honest feedback had employees who were rated as three times more engaged.

Employees yearn for this honest, corrective feedback. In a study shared in Harvard Business Review, 57% people preferred corrective feedback to purely praise and recognition. When further asked what was most helpful in their careers, 72% employees said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. 

In other words, people don’t just want to be patted on the back and told, “Good job.” Employees want the truth. They want to know: How can I be better? What can I change or improve?

I call this “The Bad News Advantage.” When you share bad news and honest feedback, you gain three advantages:

  1. You become a better leader.
  2. You engage your team more.
  3. You’re saying what your employees want to hear.

Leaders who understand these benefits of “The Bad News Advantage” have a leg up over others.

However, despite how helpful sharing bad news and honest feedback can be, we as leaders avoid it like the plague.

In two other surveys published in Harvard Business Review, each of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% of managers reported that they found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback. Twenty-one percent of managers avoided giving negative feedback entirely.

Sound familiar? :-) You may have found yourself avoiding giving negative feedback or sugar-coating your words to an employee, at some point. I know I have. Giving honest feedback can feel critical, unnatural and just flat-out uncomfortable. 

Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, knows this feeling, too. I recently interviewed him, and he candidly admitted how he’d found himself in this situation…

Des had entered a one-on-one meeting, prepared to give honest feedback to an underperforming employee. In fact, he’d written down notes beforehand of what he wanted to say. 

Then, he went into the meeting to deliver the feedback.

Upon leaving the meeting, Des looked back at his notes and realized he’d said the complete opposite to the employee. He’d minced his words, and dramatically softened what was supposed to be pointed feedback.

The employee walked away thinking he didn’t need to change anything he was doing — which was not what Des was thinking.

In that moment, Des, like many of us, had forgotten “The Bad News Advantage.” He’d forgotten that when you give difficult, honest feedback…

  1. You become a better leader.
  2. You engage your team more.
  3. You’re saying what your employees want to hear.

Des is an incredibly self-aware leader to have recognized this himself. He clearly saw the lost opportunity to improve things with an employee, and has since made delivering honest feedback — no matter how bad it is — a priority as a leader.

But that’s just Des. 

How about you? 

The Watercooler Check out our online community for leaders - where 400+ managers, executives and CEOs for all over the world candidly talk and learn from each other.
The Heartbeat Join our 1,000+ readers by subscribing to our bi-weekly newsletter on leadership, company culture, employee engagement and feedback.
Author's portrait Join our community The Watercooler