Delivering negative feedback.
Hi there. I’ve just been delivering IOSH Managing Safely training today in Newcastle. It’s been a great day and there’s been lots of discussion on the course about managing people and delivering negative feedback or criticism when you catch someone who’s working unsafely. It’s not really part of the course. It’s not in the IOSH Managing Safely syllabus, but I do think it’s an important conversation to have, because if you don’t know how to manage people, you can’t really manage safely.
And the goal of the course is to help people learn how to manage safely. So one of the delegates talked about the feedback sandwich, and I am no fan of the feedback sandwich. If you don’t know what it is, you say something positive, you give the feedback and then you follow it with something else positive. So it’s a sandwich. I call it the shit sandwich. There are slices of bread and you’ve got a piece of shit in the middle which no one wants to hear.
I’m not a fan of this technique, is very cliched, but the biggest reason I’m not a fan, and this might be offensive to some people, but I think it’s a cowardly technique. People who use this are being cowardly because you only use it when you’re fearful, you’re fearful of the conflict, you’re fearful of upsetting someone. You’re fearful of the negative reaction.
So you’re trying to protect that person’s feelings. It also comes across as being a little bit manipulative too. It’s manipulative because you’re trying to protect their feelings. You’re trying to manipulate them into being receptive into liking you when you say what you really mean. So it’s also deceitful because you end up starting with a positive, which you don’t really mean.
Then you say what you really mean, and then you end with something which you don’t mean. So it’s kind of deceitful and manipulative and cowardly. I feel such shame when I even think about it. It’s also so cliched and such a well known technique that a lot of people recognise it when you deliver it and they’ll probably just ignore you, it will undermine your credibility.
So how do you deliver feedback?
Well, there are lots of ways you could deliver feedback. It takes a long video to go through them all, but here’s a nice, simple way of delivering feedback.
Let’s say you find an engineer who’s working on a machine that’s not isolated or locked off.
A feedback sandwich would be:
“Hi. Oh, I can see that the work area is really tidy”. POSITIVE.
“However, the machine is not isolated or locked off, which is really dangerous, because if anyone turns it on, your hands could get chopped off in an instant”. FEEDBACK.
“But you’re wearing your PPE, which is really good. Well done”. POSITIVE.
Are you going to get anything or be ignored? This is how I would deliver it instead: I would just be honest and say what I’ve noticed. There’s a foundation to this. The foundation is a good relationship. I would like to think I’ve spoken to this person, met this person before, and they know me.
I know we’ve got good rapport, and I deliver this feedback from a place of affection and understanding and a desire to help them improve. I’m not out to get them. I’m not being aggressive or violent with this in any way.
Delivering negative feedback
Step one – what I can see
“Hi. I can see that you’re working on the machine.
You’ve got to breakdown there. And I’ve noticed that the machine is not isolated and it’s not locked off.
Step two – what are the negative consequences?
“The control panel is just over there, if someone switches it on and your hands are in there, you’re not going to get a chance to pull them out before your fingers or hands get pulled off or wrapped around the belt.
And that’s going to be a life changing injury”.
Step three – explain the standard (this is what we expect)
Hopefully they already know the standard.
“As you well know, it doesn’t matter how urgent this breakdown is, but unless you have permission from the site manager to bypass the lockout system, all machines should be isolated and locked off before you start removing the guards. And that procedure is there to make sure that you are safe and that you go home tonight to your family with all of the the bits and pieces that you came to work with still attached to you”.
Step four – explanation why
“This is a negative consequences of what you’re doing. This is what we expect. This is the positive impact if you do this as expected”.
Step five – getting commitment
Getting commitment from the person. I will ask them if I can count on them to do that in future.
So get a promise out of them.
“Do you promise me that next time you work on a machine like this, you’ll always do it?”
You’ll probably want to make sure that you stop the job and get the machine isolated and locked off straight away before any more maintenance can commence.
And it’s probably well worth having a conversation about why.
You may also want to ask why they felt the need to start taking guards off and not isolating the machine. You want to get to the bottom of this and start investigating it.
Delivery negative feedback – summary
- What I can see
- What are the negative consequences?
- Explain the standard (this is what is expected)
- Explain why
- Get commitment for the future
Take care. Catch you later.