By Kimberly Bustamante

In a classic psychology experiment, teachers were told that their students had taken an aptitude test from Harvard that would predict which students would be high achievers in coming years. The researchers did not put into place any special treatment or academic program for these students, they just told the teachers these children had been tested and found gifted.

What the teachers didn’t realize is that these tests were actually fake. The “gifted” students were chosen at random and when the researchers monitored the school children, they noticed interesting results:

The children researchers identified as gifted were held to higher expectations. Their teachers treated them with greater care and attentiveness, gave them better feedback and more challenging opportunities than the other students. And testing at the end of the year clearly indicated those students showed greater intellectual gains than their peers.

Supervisors at any level can take away two important lessons from this experiment. 1) Your expectations of others can become self-fulfilling. Each of us has subconscious biases towards people (both positive and negative) that we can work to mitigate by being conscious of them. 2) The way you communicate with and treat your employees makes a huge difference in their success.

Here are a few brief tips for sharing negative feedback on employee performance that will lead to a successful outcome and build success for the employee. Kim goes more in depth in the full article here.

  1. Be mindful of your viewpoint. First and foremost, you must approach negative feedback discussions with a focus on helping the employee succeed.
  2. Focus on behaviors, not personality. Don’t let your personal feelings boil over into your work relationship. Focus on the behaviors that get in the way of performance, not personality traits.
  3. Be specific. Pare down your list. If you bring up every criticism you’ve had for the last year, the conversation will quickly turn bitter and exhausting.
  4. Don’t instill fear. The object isn’t to scare the devil out of your employee. Focus on providing constructive criticism and useful advice for getting over the hump.
  5. Confirm your understanding. It is critical to ensure there are no misunderstandings in the message. Ask your employee to repeat what he thinks he heard you say.
  6. Clean the slate and follow up with positive reinforcement. Start over with a clean slate. Negative feedback doesn’t have to be a thoroughly negative experience for either of you.

As Director of Operations for Wiss & Company LLP, Kim is responsible for resource management, technology and culture keeping at the firm.


Reach out to a Wiss team member for more information or assistance.

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