Weekender: David Wain on Delivering Negative Feedback and What To Do With It

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Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a microbe of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a microbe (versus the entire organism)? Because it’s the weekend!

In this era when leadership is expected to build people up, its common for leaders to mistake candid communication with being “mean.” As a result, those who choose to follow us do not receive the constructive feedback needed to improve performance. They falter leaderlessly through laborious tasks while left wondering where they stand.

On the Nerdist podcast, David Wain, co-creator and director of the movie/Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, discussed his preferred method of receiving bad news.

Anytime any executive or agents or anybody speaks in normal truth it is rare and welcome.

It seems that David has experienced much of the same confusing communications that employees complain about. Many of his “managers” (i.e. movie studios) don’t call or accept calls after a movie tanks in the box office, avoid unpleasant conversations, and expect people to “get the hint” when they’ve tripped up.

On the occasions when David has received this feedback, he goes on to explain how he uses it:

You say, ‘Okay, moving on.’ What else are you going to do? One of my most incredible experiences in my whole career is when I got shafted so hard in such a harsh way for this job I thought I was going to get… When you have a rejection like that it makes you reaffirm your commitment to what you do.

Be the leader that speaks in normal truth. Your critique does not need to be harsh to get your point across, but it does need to be definitive and clear. Avoid making it sound better than it is and “close the loop” so no unanswered questions are looming. If done well, you can help others reaffirm their commitment. They’ll take the rejection as a helpful step in their development and move onto the next challenge.

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