A hack to provide negative feedback

There is a thin line between honesty and rudeness, even with the best interests.

We are more defensive to negative feedback than we think. Invisible walls unconsciously erect themselves in our minds in the face of criticism. The sharper the criticism gets, the taller those walls become.

And yet, criticism in the best interest of the receiver is often a generous act. How does one deliver it effectively?

In a recent conversation, I was asked:

“I can give you my honest and blunt feedback, or a polite feedback. Which one would you prefer?”

Soon afterwards, I knew that I was speaking to a seasoned negotiator.

Cushioning negative feedback with such a question is more effective than directly delivering it. When asked that question, most people would answer in the affirmative – few people would choose to listen to a polite answer and fool themselves. But by exercising this choice, they are letting their guard down. Whatever criticism flows after that question, they have chosen to receive it.

The cornerstone of good negotiation is to transform the other party from a rival to a collaborator. It is funny how a simple, seemingly redundant question achieves this and helps us deliver constructive criticism.

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