The Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove: Giving Negative Feedback

When it comes to constructive criticism, delivery makes all the difference. Bob Lutz, the former GM vice-chairperson, eloquently visualizes effective leaders by stating they often take on the appearance of an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” This phrase represents providing a strong approach to criticism but wrapping that approach in compliments to balance delivery and to communicate more effectively.

Emphasis on Constructive

Harsh criticism directly affects the level of retention and motivation of the employee. “67% of employees whose managers communicated their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to 31% of employees whose managers only communicated their weaknesses. (Fessler, 2017)” Employees who receive only the “Iron Fist” of criticism often shut down. Unbridled criticism does little to improve the performance of the employee and creates a defensive corporate culture.

Corporate culture is the unseen force affecting everyone in a company. Promoting positive culture has become incredibly important as information surrounding the effect culture has on the workforce has become more clear. A defensive culture is one, that lacks significant advancement, due to employees feeling as though they cannot take risks, accept challenges, or present ideas without the fear of failure. Fear of failure is often deepened by repeated negative feedback to action within the office. Often harsh, one-sided criticism is damaging to the culture, employee ability, and corporate advancement.

Proportion is Key

Finding the balance between being an assertive and kind leader is necessary when building a company, leading employees, and remaining a team player. Determining the perfect balance is impossible, everyone, and every team requires a different ratio. Ashley Goldberg, a leader in the national sales industry, says, “Leaders in the workplace can gain trust by balancing critique with praise. Employees will be more open to listening to your suggestions if you are likely to give a compliment alongside negative feedback.”

Studies show that honest feedback and employee engagement is positively affiliated. The studies show that the desire to receive honest feedback correlates positively with effective leadership. Asking employees for their observations of the leadership team members is just as beneficial as providing constructive feedback to them. Remember that the ultimate goal is to be respected, which incorporates assertiveness just as much as it includes kindness.

Strike a Balance

Developing a balanced methodology for communicating criticism will affect the responsiveness, ability, and productivity of any team. Criticism is critical to growing professionally, and in communicating critique, a strong leader builds a stronger workforce. This level of communication can be a spark toward a more positive culture as well. In creating open air for communication employees will feel more able to take on challenges and give their ideas.  A leader donning the “iron fist in a velvet glove” represents a careful ableness to direct the malleable collective potential of a workforce.

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