Ten Commandments for Delivering Negative Feedback to Senior Management.

Sometimes you may find yourself having to deliver negative feedback to management. Setting your (very normal) anxiety aside, you’ll need to do it in such a way that they will actually listen, rather than get defensive or dismissive.

Here are the top ten must-do’s to ensure you are successful:

  1. Inner work. Slow down. Breathe. Welcome the challenge. Coming from a centered place will make a world of difference to your delivery.
  2. Assess their readiness. Assess how ready the group is to hear the message. They may not be ready, or the message could launch a new World War in the boardroom. If they’re not ready, make sure to use the ‘allies’ strategy in the following bullet.
  3.  Line up allies in advance. When appropriate, approach allies and ‘opinion makers’ first. Ensure confidentiality, and frame your consultation with these leaders in ways that will not compromise either their integrity or yours.
  4. Timing. Do not procrastinate, timeliness is crucial.
  5. Forum. Choose the forum carefully (a regular meeting or specially-convened?) and place your item strategically on the agenda (first item? middle? last?). If you’re in the same physical location, deliver the feedback face-to-face. If you’re virtual, choose the best semi-personal medium available.
  6. No sugar coating.  Senior managers tend to be action-oriented individuals with a short attention span and limited patience. So tell it like it is. Candour will garner respect and assist them in assessing the information and responding constructively.
  7. Speak in their frequency.  Tailor your communication to their specific ‘listening frequencies’. Listening is a highly subjective process that is informed by the listener’s world-view, motivators, priorities, aspirations and fears. Prior to the meeting, compose a detailed list: what drives/scares/inspires the leadership team and its members? In addition, put yourself in their shoes and list their possible objections and concerns. Then, compose your message accordingly.
  8. Organize your presentation. Begin with a brief review of the big picture and context, then switch quickly to the key points. Lay out the facts in an organized fashion, zeroing in on what they would want and need to know, not on your own take on things.
  9. Pre-empt resistance and objections.  Very early on, and before they ever get a chance to raise it, address head-on the potential objections and concerns that you’ve pre-identified during your planning process.
  10. Solutions, solutions, solutions.   Most importantly, solutions and a alternatives for action, and state up front that you’ll be doing so. Stating a problem without offering viable solutions is awfully reminiscent of whining and may take things south in a hurry.

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