Most of us take pride in our work and try to do our best. Because most employees aren’t intentionally performing poorly, it can be difficult for them to process negative feedback.
Understanding how people process feedback can help managers deliver their comments in a more constructive way. The SARAH acronym, which describes the emotional stages one goes through when receiving negative feedback, can be a useful tool.
The SARAH acronym stands for:
S = Shock or surprise
A = Anger
R = Rejection or resistance
A = Acceptance
H = Help or healing
When you first give someone feedback, they may be shocked or surprised to hear they didn’t meet your expectations. To limit the effects of “S,” provide your feedback privately and allow the employee time to digest it.
Once the shock has worn off, the most common reaction is anger, "A." An employee may feel they were treated unfairly or singled out—especially if they have witnessed others doing the same or worse. Remember, the employee’s perception is their reality. You need to address this anger and help them work through it. Be sure to keep the conversation focused on the employee. You are not there to discuss other employees. Your job is to help the employee understand what needs to be addressed. Allow the employee to vent and be sure to listen. Try to direct the conversation back to the issue at hand, staying factual and explaining your concerns.
The next phase is rejection or resistance, “R.” It can be difficult for employees to hear they did something wrong or are not meeting standards. Make sure you stick to the facts and provide clarity on what the employee is lacking. Also provide direction on how they can overcome the issue. Ask what they think they can do to be successful.
Next, we move to the second “A” stage, acceptance, which is when most people start to take responsibility and want to improve. In this stage, it is critical to work with the employee to establish an action plan. Discuss how the employee can meet the standard. It is critical to establish a follow-up meeting. It is your responsibility to continue to provide feedback and make corrections if needed.
The final phase is help, "H." This is when your role as a coach is key. Give the employee the help he or she needs to be successful. It is not your job to do their work, but rather to tell them what is lacking and provide tools and guidance to help them improve.
Understanding the stages your employees go through should help you prepare for those tough conversations. Provide the necessary support, guidance, coaching, and mentoring, and keep in mind that some employees move from one phase to the next faster than others. It is not fair to employees to avoid providing constructive feedback because you want to avoid conflict. As a good leader it is your responsibility to coach each employee and help them deal with the emotions of constructive feedback—SARAH.
People often experience the SARAH emotions when confronted with change as well. And remember, when you are on the other side of constructive feedback, you will likely go through the SARAH stages too. Being aware of your emotions should help you turn those conversations into learning and growth opportunities.